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Petition could abolish Wilmer-Hutchins district

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RUSTY WELLER
Ellis County Press Managing Editor
FERRIS - Saying it's a financial vampire producing educational zombies, Barbara and Randy Senter are seeking to drive a wooden stake through Wilmer-Hutchins Independent School District's dark heart.

The Senters are circulating a petition calling for the abolition of the district. And they are surprisingly pleased at the response of area residents.

'People are fed up,' Randy Senter said. 'They want to shut it down.'

The petition calls for the Texas Education Agency to divide Wilmer-Hutchins ISD and its schools among surrounding districts.

Disgusted by a checkered history of embarrassing scandals and alleged improprieties, some residents like the idea of putting the district out of its misery. They're telling the Senters their students and tax money would be better served by well-managed administrations in neighboring districts.

Others apparently welcome the petition as an or-else warning to the Wilmer-Hutchins board to finally put aside self-serving issues and focus on students.

'The way the district is being run, it's not fair to the children,' Randy said. 'We've got to help them, because the students are getting cheated. Something is wrong, real wrong.'

The Senters are seeking 1,500 signatures - 10 percent of the district's registered voters — on the petition, which would be sent to TEA Commissioner Jim Nelson in Austin.

'Then it's up to him,' Barbara Senter said of Nelson. 'He could do nothing about the petition, but if he really cares for kids, he will abolish the district.'

Petitions are available in Wilmer at Total, Texaco, Citco and Food Grocery and in Hutchins at Miller's Ferry Grocery and the Livestock store along I-45.

The petition drive began before the latest board embarrassment when a precinct reporting error overnight switched the outcome of the Nov. 7 rematch between challenger Brenda Duff and incumbent Luther Edwards III. But the continuing controversy apparently is the last straw for some residents who are adding their signatures to the petition.

Just as upsetting to the Senters is how administration officials have handled financial matters. 'The deeper I get, the more dirty hands I find,' Barbara said. 'The more I find out, the worse it gets.'

The Senters point to the handling of playground equipment as an example, which reportedly was put together by BFI volunteers after months of delay. Barbara claims the TEA was billed for $5,400 'for the work the volunteers did.' She reports a cancelled check for $4,000 but not for the remaining $1,400.

'Additionally, $8,700 has been tacked onto the end of the (district's) request to the TEA as ‘other in-kind cash or service,'' Barbara said. 'There's also $195 for ‘travel,' so $8,895 was added.

'And we still don't know about the $4,000,' she said. 'Where did it come from? Where did it go? Nobody seems to know. It's just another example of why this district needs to be dissolved.'

Barbara's faith in the district was first shaken in 1997 when she petitioned for her property to be made part of the Ferris school district so her son, James, could participate in FFA and other agriculture programs not offered by Wilmer-Hutchins. Ferris officials at first didn't see any problem and approved the move, but Wilmer-Hutchins rejected the request without allowing Barbara Senter, then Kearney, a chance to present her reasons.

'Before I was even out of my seat, someone immediately moved to vote no,' according to Barbara. 'I said, ‘Wait a minute: Don't I get a chance to talk.'

'‘Didn't you talk last time?' someone said. I said, ‘No, I didn't.' But they said they had the information and didn't need to hear more,' Barbara said.

Wilmer-Hitchins' response to her appear reportedly was a motion to dismiss her petition of deanexation.

She appealed to Ferris ISP and sought to present a list of differences between the two districts, but the board reportedly refused to accent the information and ruled the districts equal.

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