'It's all a matter of power.'

When Sandy Kress was school board president, he and Dan Peavy held private discussions on how to limit the influence of black school board members. Their conversations were captured on the Peavy Tapes, which Kress has fought hard to keep secret. Now, U.S.

In theory, committee power would be limited to the members of each panel, Kress says, "but this is not the way Kathlyn and Yvonne operated."

Hollis Brashear, who kept notes on the progress of the committee-formation process, remembers meeting with Kress in late November 1994 and talking about the need for committees.

The board had indeed formed committees in the past. But Kress' immediate predecessor, Rene Castilla, once considered a leader of the Slam Dunk Gang, had abolished them in 1991. But by late 1994, even Castilla--still on the board but no longer president--had changed his mind and was supporting the three African-American board members. According to Brashear, Kress said in November that he was working on a plan.

But as far as Brashear could tell by a January 10, 1995, board work session, Kress still had not come up with any sort of committee plan.

Brashear decided to take the lead himself, according to notes compiled by the DISD board secretary of the meeting. Brashear, aided by Castilla, distributed to the board a copy of the former committee structure. Brashear asked that a policy change be placed on the next agenda. The board secretary's notes say: "Mr. Kress indicated a discussion would be placed on the agenda for the next meeting."

By the next work session, in the late afternoon on January 26, 1995, Kress had indeed devised a plan for committees. He distributed a two-page proposal. In it, he stated: "There has been considerable discussion among Board members in recent weeks about the need for the Board to be better informed about critical issues facing the District and to be more involved in the governance and overseeing the effective implementation of key Board initiatives. To that end, some Board members have proposed that Committees or working groups be established to facilitate a more informed and more actively involved Board.

"Other Board members have expressed opposition to the formation of Committees because of their perception that Committees in the past have contributed to Board micromanagement of the District, an inappropriately heavy burden on administrative resources, and an unwise and unhelpful addition to Board member workload.

"As a way of taking first steps to move forward," Kress proposed that the board establish three ad hoc committees on educational reforms, business and technology, and student development. The committees would not be permanent.

While he wasn't fully embracing the committee concept, Kress had decided who he wanted to appoint to each of the ad hoc groups. In hindsight, his tentative appointments are revealing. Kress split the board so that no two African-American members were on any one committee.

Kress defends his proposal, stressing that there were only three black board members, and he assigned one to each committee.

At that point, however, Kress seemed willing to allow all board members to observe and attend any committee meeting. "But only Committee members may participate as such in the affairs and deliberations of the committee," he wrote.

The ad hoc approach didn't satisfy proponents of the committee system like Brashear. He had waited nearly two months for Kress' plan, and he wanted some permanent sense of participation, Brashear recalls. The debate at the work session continued "for some time," the board secretary noted. It concluded when Kress agreed to appoint the committee to create committees. On that panel, he put four members: Castilla as the chair; Lynda McDow, a newcomer to the board; Yvonne Ewell, one of the more outspoken African-American members; and, of course, Dan Peavy.

Peavy had by then earned a reputation on the board as Kress' water boy. A businessman who graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor's degree in music and from Southern Methodist University with a master's, Peavy seemed to revere the DISD board president, one former board member recalls.

"He wanted to be liked by the business crowd that liked Kress," the board member recalls. Peavy himself says he had "tremendous" respect for Kress' efforts to reform the school district. "I was supportive," Peavy says. "I think I served his interests."

When the four-member committee to create committees met on February 3, according to DISD board documents, matters went smoothly. "After an hour's discussion, the committee had decided on a format and design for a committee system," a memo from the board secretary's office states. The panel produced its seven-page proposal to take to the full board the next week.

There was no indication from board records that Peavy objected to the plan or had thoughts about when the meetings should be scheduled. Board members present at the meeting do not recall Peavy bringing up the idea that the committees should meet simultaneously.

But that changed at the February 14 work session of the full board, held in the afternoon before a scheduled formal public meeting, when the committee's report was discussed.

Even before the meeting, Brashear suspected trouble was brewing. "I learned from the board secretary that Sandy had pulled the committee report off the agenda," Brashear says. "I called Sandy and pleaded with him to put the item back on the agenda." At that point, Brashear's notes from the time indicate, Kress agreed he would.

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