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Congresswoman wants answers about Dallas school expansion

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WFAA

June 2, 2010

By: Shon Gables

DALLAS — A surprise meeting Wednesday caught Dallas school officials off guard.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Dallas) flew in from Washington demanding answers about the proposed eight acres of land the district says it needs to build a new school.

For nearly two hours — with no media allowed — Johnson and decision-makers at the Dallas ISD discussed one of the largest land battles in East Dallas.

Johnson said DISD's Chief of Staff Arnold Viramontes told her the district needs the eight acres of land to rebuild and expand the campus of the aging O.M. Roberts Elementary School.

Residents were not fully aware the district needed that much land. "I'm not sure they knew the exact measurement," Johnson said.

June 2, 2010

The ongoing legal battle prevented Viramontes from speaking on camera, but his office said Fanny C. Harris and Jubilee elementary schools were also considered sites for expansion because they both have the necessary land available.

But Johnson said those schools simply weren't feasible. "Both of them had some negatives," she said. "One was the safety of students getting to the location, and the other had to do with the boundaries as they are currently set."

But what about eminent domain? Many homeowners worry they will be underpaid for their properties or their homes will be unfairly snatched away.

"People do have reasons to be a little suspicious sometimes," Johnson said.

Johnson said the district has agreed to hire appraisers and pay property owners what's fairly due. DISD has also promised to provide Johnson's office with documentation about the procedures that are employed.

"We cannot communicate with our constituents unless we have the facts ourselves," the congresswoman said. "So we have asked for them to show us a map and show us the plans."

If they don't, Johnson said she will hold the district accountable.

E-mail sgables@wfaa.com

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