School name change battle heats up with fraud allegation

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If the day comes when Sidney Lanier's name is ripped off a 90-year-old building, it will be in the wake of a bruising battle.

"Do we really want to teach our kids that the way to get back at something that happened 150 years is revenge?," asks Wayne Dolcefino, who is representing opponents of the name change. "Is that really the lesson we want?"

The one-time Confederate private, who never owned a slave, built modest renown in the post Civil War years as a poet preaching reconciliation. But that record didn't keep Lanier Middle School off a list of Houston Independent School District campuses whose namesakes were deemed supporters of human bondage.

A parent group, known as Lanier Watchdogs, is fighting back claiming the school board lied to taxpayers by failing to properly research and reveal the expense involved with renaming campuses, in violation of district policy.

"I think you can extend that to say it was actually a defraud on the HISD constituency," says Ron Kahanek, member of Lanier Watchdogs. "We have our own study here that says that the funding cost on this historic structure alone is a half a million dollars." 

But both HISD Trustee Wanda Adams and district spokesman Jason Spencer tell FOX 26 News that the cost of renaming was well documented and publicly reported at approximately $250,000 per campus. Expense aside, those against the change say the board is ignoring a survey indicating 90 percent of the surrounding community opposes stripping Lanier's name. They also allege emotional injury among current students who've become collateral damage to the controversy.

"When you bring race issues into a school where they didn't exist before, you are actually doing harm," says Adrienne Murry, parent of a Lanier student and member of Lanier Watchdogs.

In a recent interview with FOX 26, Trustee Jolanda Jones said the five board members who voted for the name changes will not succumb to pressure.

"Public money should not be spent on schools named after people in the Confederacy," says Jones. "There's no distinction between whether they were leaders or not. They are still hunting down Nazis who weren't leaders, who were enlisted people, just like Lanier was. They are hunting them down now and they are 90 and 95. Crimes against humanity are crimes. Period. The end."