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Lawsuit questions bond funding for predominantly black school

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HEMPSTEAD, Texas (AP) — Nearly $50 million in bonds for the Waller school district is on hold by the Texas Attorney General's Office while a legal challenge is settled over whether there is adequate funding to repair an aging predominantly black school.

Waller County Justice of the Peace DeWayne Charleston is seeking to overturn the bond issue, approved by voters 769-446 in May. The money would fund school repairs, a new 10,000-seat football stadium and an elementary school.

But Charleston questions how the school district can justify spending just $270,000, a fraction of the approved bonds, on H.T. Jones Elementary, a historically black school built on the Prairie View A&M University campus during segregation in the 1950s. The school, located about 50 miles northwest of Houston, has 167 students.

Charleston contends that facilities at Jones, which is 55 percent black and 24 percent Hispanic, are dilapidated and not up to par with district schools that serve large percentages of white students.

He filed a lawsuit in Harris County alleging the school district violated open meeting laws, failed to post notices of the meetings approving the bond election and disenfranchised black students at Prairie View by calling the election when school was not in session.

But the Waller school district has filed its own lawsuit, saying Charleston's action has put essential refurbishment and new construction in jeopardy.

District spokeswoman Sarah Stephenson said in the last 10 years the district has spent about $230,000 on various repair jobs at Jones.

She added the bond election was held legally according to state law.

District Court Judge John Delaney will hear the school district's case Monday in Hempstead. The 5,100-pupil school district is in both Waller and Harris counties.

Tom Kelley, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, said the office would not clear release of the bonds until the district's suit is legally resolved, including any appeals.

The dispute over the bond issue is the latest in a series of controversial election problems in Waller County.

In December, the attorney general closed the Waller County elections office and launched a criminal probe into allegations staff violated the rights of Prairie View students.

In another case, former Waller County District Attorney Oliver Kitzman challenged Prairie View students' right to vote in 2003. He claimed they did not meet residency requirements. The NAACP prevailed in a lawsuit on behalf of the students.

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Information from the Houston Chronicle: www.chron.com


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