Leave it to Keever

DISD's new leader has ambition and ideas--if anybody'd let him finish a meeting

Keever wants zero-based budgeting implemented at DISD so the board can attempt to clear the decks on an annual basis and examine the grotesquely bloated administrative budget that Superintendent Chad Woolery keeps stuffing with patronage positions. Not a half-bad idea when you consider that since the racial shenanigans began seven months ago, Woolery, without any input whatsoever from the board, has attempted to appease various unhappy factions by creating three brand-new, top-level administrative positions: one for deposed Townview principal Ora Lee Watson, whose total compensation is $83,862; one for new deputy superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez, who makes $123,600; and one for new chief of staff Shirley Ison-Newsome, who will now make something above her current salary-plus-car-allowance of $92,877.

Ison-Newsome's new position, chief of staff, is particularly intriguing since absolutely no staff members report to her--not one employee. Woolery somehow believed that giving veteran DISD employee Ison-Newsome, who is African-American, such a high-ranking title would appease black activists like the New Panthers and John Wiley Price. Instead the activists say the "gopher" position is insulting to African Americans. So, once again, the joke's on the taxpayers since Ison-Newsome's old position, where she used to do something, has been filled by someone equally expensive.

Keever also wants to take the concept of accountability to the next level by directly linking teacher performance to kids' test scores--and lest anyone forget what kids we're talking about here, black and Hispanic kids now make up 89 percent of the school district's enrollment.

But Keever has other ideas. "I think we have to lay the foundation for another bond program," Keever says. "We're growing by 5,000 to 7,000 more students a year. And I know more about the bond programs than the average board member."

As chairman of the board's business committee last year, Keever is intensely aware that the district's student population growth is far outstripping the district's ability to pay for a decent education. "We haven't had a tax increase in four years," says Keever, who's gutsy enough to say he's thinking about one this year.

Keever is not the Antichrist. In fact, we don't really know what he is--save for an ambitious, yes, acerbic, politically starry-eyed, 35-year-old pup--because the Panthers have never given him a chance to conduct an entire meeting, let alone punch the green button on anything.

'Tis true that Bill Keever is not anyone's ideal choice to head the school board. The ideal school board president would have the intellectual depth of Sandy Kress; the experience and grasp of history of Yvonne Ewell; the patience and compassion of Kathleen Leos; and, yes, the scrappiness and guts of Bill Keever--who must be given enormous credit for yanking the grossly self-absorbed mayor of Dallas by his silk tie and making him finally step up to help his school district and his city.

Lucky for Dallas, Keever has two little girls in the public schools, which in case nobody's noticed, need all the middle-class students and all the pro bono parental help they can get. Keever's kids see that their daddy is being vilified in the press. They also have had cops living in their house for several weeks because he was getting death threats, threats based on the color of his skin, not his actions.

Perhaps someone should point up the fact that the three black DISD board members, for all their constant howling about exclusion, could not even get it together enough to nominate any one of themselves for the position of board president. Hollis Brashear wanted the position badly, but Kathlyn Gilliam not only wouldn't support him, she worked against him in his re-election campaign this spring. Without a unified front from all three blacks, Brashear didn't have a chance; and even if Yvonne Ewell had wanted it, Brashear certainly wasn't going to allow her the pleasure of a nomination since he couldn't have it.

It should also be pointed out that Keever took his girls, ages 7 and 8, up to Greenville recently to participate in the support rally--the worship service--led by Gov. George Bush. "I thought it was good for my children to see that," says Keever, who's been a Sunday-school teacher at the Lovers Lane United Methodist Church for the past seven years. "This church-burning thing is just horrendous. We're pretty close to our church, and if someone burned our church down, it would be pretty painful for our family."

Bill Keever is not perfect. He suffers from being graceless and overeager: The way he orders food from a nervous waitress during our lunch in a hotel restaurant is awfully brittle, let alone the way he handles a bunch of media-hungry hotheads looking for any excuse to crucify him. He's had a rough road so far in his presidency, and he knows it--he didn't need the mayor's script shoved down his throat to tell him that.

Keever has spent the past few weeks calling on a regular basis--often daily--a handful of people including Sandy Kress, John Scovell, and Keever's former pastor at Lovers Lane Methodist. He's been in high panic, wanting their advice at every turn, wanting to know how he looks on TV, wanting to know how his long-term political prospects look. The feedback can't be good.

Keever needs to slow down, take a big breath, and look inside his own head and heart for answers. It's Keever time--time for the boy to grow into the man. Maybe even share those enchiladas.

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