Losing Faith

Dallas Area Interfaith wants to give the city's poor and disenfranchised a voice in politics. But all critics see is another grab for power.

Leos says the first time the school board voted on the issue for the 1995-1996 budget year, the resolution was confusing and was amended three times before the final vote. She says she thought she was voting to allow schools to use their federal Title 1 funds for after-school programs. But Leos' explanation rings hollow because schools don't need board permission to spend those funds.

Asked if she would have voted for the funds the first time around if she'd had a complete understanding, Leos hesitantly says no. She now gives a host of reasons for opposing the expenditure of money--but overshadowing them all is a distrust for Interfaith, and part of that seems to be rooted in ignorance. Leos mistakenly believed that the money for after-school programs went directly to Interfaith. "That's what they told me," she says.

Then there's board chairman Bill Keever, whom Interfaith leaders describe as being arrogant and insulting in their dealings with him. In one meeting with Interfaith leaders, Keever, after being asked about the procedures involved in determining the school district's budget, finished by saying, "Let me tell you something. I'm running a one billion-dollar company. I'm the one in charge, the one calling the shots."

"What a great idea of democracy," says Interfaith activist Francisco Castruita, who attended the meeting.

Several weeks later, after Interfaith lost its after-school program funding, it had another meeting with Keever. The Reverend Barry Jackson of Munger Avenue Baptist Church told Keever that Interfaith was bringing 500 people to the next night's school board meeting to ask the board to reconsider its position.

"Come on big guy, you bring 500 or 5,000--I don't care," Keever said. "I'm not changing my mind."

"Why should I respect that person? He doesn't care about the constituents," says Cynthia Salinas Dooley, a Spanish professor at SMU and Interfaith executive board member. "What makes them all so arrogant?"

Now Keever is on the offensive, stooping to conquer. A few days before the school board voted on the district's budget on August 22, the board held a hearing for public input in a small meeting room in the administration building on Ross Avenue. In typical fashion, Interfaith packed the meeting room beyond capacity. Keever refused to let more people in and locked the door on scores of Interfaith supporters. Trustee Lois Parrott, who came late and found herself locked out, asked Keever to move the meeting to a larger room, but he refused.

A week later, Tom Plumbley, senior minister of Midway Hills Christian Church in Northwest Dallas, wrote an article in the church bulletin about Keever's actions that night.

Incensed, Keever phoned the church and asked for a copy of the membership directory so he could write to church members and tell his version of events. The minister refused.

"I got the directory anyway," Keever says. "Two can play at that game. They're amateurs."

In the end, the real losers, of course, were the 1,000 or so children who are either left alone from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. or spend their time in less enriching pursuits than studying music appreciation or leatherworking.

"This whole debate was not about the children, but simply political," Keever says. "It was about Interfaith saying we can force you to spend this money so they could show their communities they have political muscle. If it was about children, they would work with the board in trying to develop programs that meet the after-school needs of all the kids who need them, instead of forcing the board to fund programs at just a handful of schools."

Keever says after-school care has to be a community-wide initiative, involving the city, the school district, the county, and the business and religious communities.

Interfaith leaders have no argument with that. "Keever's point is valid. We just believe the school district must take the first step," says Britt. "They need to stop talking about how important children are. It's only a serious priority when you put money behind it."

The problem, as Britt sees it, is this: "The Anglo board members are having trouble dealing with the fact that there is a rising tide of citizen involvement that wants to go beyond boards and commissions and advisory groups, that wants to be substantially involved with the advocacy and initiation of how their tax dollars are spent.

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