published Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Georgia test cheating trial underway — and more Chattanooga region news

ATLANTA — Attorneys and a Fulton County judge began meeting with prospective jurors Monday in what is expected to be a months-long trial for Atlanta Public Schools educators accused of participating in a test cheating conspiracy that drew nationwide attention.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported 400 potential jurors have been summoned. After examining them, attorneys will select 12 jurors and 11 alternates.

Prosecutors have said they expect jury selection to take from two to four weeks, and the trial itself is expected to last for months.

Twelve former administrators, principals, testing coordinators and teachers face racketeering charges. Individual charges include influencing witnesses and lying to state investigators. Former superintendent Beverly Hall has cancer and a judge has delayed her trial.

Prosecutors have said that more than 30 educators participated in a conspiracy to cheat on standardized tests dating back to 2005, motivated by pressure to meet federal and APS standards and receive bonuses or keep their jobs.

Last year, 35 Atlanta educators were indicted in the cheating scandal. Investigators reported cheating in 44 schools involving nearly 180 educators. Investigators have said Hall and her top staff “created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation.”

Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter told a group of potential jurors that the trial is expected to be lengthy and demanding. They were given questionnaires and are expected to be interviewed later.


Fire destroys courthouse

SPARTA, Ga. — The Georgia fire safety and insurance commissioner’s office estimates a blaze that gutted a historic courthouse may have caused about $5.5 million in damage.

Authorities say the call went out about 3 a.m. Monday that the more than 130-year-old Hancock County Courthouse was on fire. It was engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrive.

The red brick exterior walls were still standing hours later, but the interior is burned out and the courthouse’s majestic clock tower is gone.

A spokesman for the state fire and insurance commissioner’s office says the cause of the fire is undetermined and there’s no evidence of foul play.

The Hancock County Courthouse was completed in 1883 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building had been undergoing renovations.


Forest project gets funding

WINCHESTER, Tenn. — A project in Middle Tennessee is among those receiving $14 million in federal funding.

The U.S. Forest Service will award the money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for seven Forest Legacy Program projects.

In Tennessee, $1.87 million is going to the Carter Mountain Working Forest Conservation Easement. The U.S. Agriculture Department says the project will protect 4,800 acres of prime developable forest land.

According to a news release, the property includes diverse and highly productive forests, more than 10 miles of scenic bluff views, two federally endangered species, 10 vernal pool wetlands and more than 10 miles of headwater streams.

The conservation fund uses no taxpayer dollars but uses earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing for the conservation of important lands, waters and historical sites.

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