Research in the History of American Education
April 12, 1972
Today, protest meetings, student strikes, citizens’ committees, clandestine investigations, official inquires and mass resignations are not considered unusual means of demonstrating dissent or displeasure. Such activities are more or less accepted as indicators of the complex problems inherent in a dynamic metropolitan society. Generally, such actions are characterized simply as either signs of the times or symptoms of society’s ills. In either case, they are thought to be unique to this particular time and place – mid-twentieth century urban American. Perhaps this is why it is startling to find that the same methods were employed earlier by rural people for the same ends, namely protest, reform, and improvement.
This essay will examine a community crisis that contained all of the aforementioned elements. It will describe what happened in a small, but growing rural Texas town whose citizens decided that “something” was wrong with their schools. It will explain why the crisis began, analyze the course it took, and attempt to evaluate whether of not it was fully resolved.
Locally controlled public schools are individual, independent governmental units unique to American society. Much of this originally stems from their peculiar organization and structure. Public schools in the United States operate according to separate calendars, are governed and administered by specially designated officials, employ a variety of retainers and generally are regarded as distinct legal entities. They are responsible for educating the community’s children and doing so are expected to act in the community’s best interest and welfare.
In Texas, public schools have achieved even more differentiation from other units of government because they could and did organize into independent districts complete with separate boundaries, taxing and legal powers, and property rights. Yet the formation of independent school districts did not gain much momentum until after 1908 when three salutary amendments to the Texas Constitution were effected. These changes pertained more specifically to rural schools and as such liberated the conditions necessary for forming independent districts by allowing tax funds to be used for equipping school buildings, raising the limit of the school tax to fifty cents on a hundred dollars evaluation, and abolishing two-thirds majority of qualified taxpayers as the required vote necessary to vote a tax for school purposes. A year later another amendment was added that allowed school districts to organize in areas lying in two or more counties. Although these mechanics of school organization seem somewhat trivial, they marked a milestone in Texas public education, and from 1909 the number of independent school districts in Texas increased markedly.
Irving was one of the enterprising Texas communities that took immediate advantage of this educational legislation. Founded in 1903, Irving was not incorporated as a town until 1914. By then it had about 300 people, a bank, 3 churches, a railroad line, a gas line and was part of an independent school district. Thanks to the foresight of E.C. Lively, state representative and Irving resident, a bill creating the Irving Independent School District was passed in the second session of the thirty-first Texas Legislature, 1909. On April 23, 1909, Governor T.M. Campbell signed the bill into law and the Irving Independent School District was duly constituted.
Within two months, seven trustees were elected with the top candidate receiving sixty five votes. When the school term opened in the fall of 1909, 125 students enrolled. These pupils had formerly attended the one-room community schools of Kit and Lively. The first district school building had two rooms and was erected on property donated by the founders of the town. Four years later, district patrons proudly erected a three-story red brick building to house all students. The new building was financed by the district’s first bond issue which totaled $13,000.
Although the district comprised a larger area than did the town, most school patrons considered themselves to be Irvingites in spirit if not in fact. It followed then that what was good for one benefited the other. Reversing this postulate, one could assume that conflicts in one would be reflected by friction in the other.
Both the schools and the town were supported by an agricultural economy of truck farms, orchards, poultry farms and dairies. Part of Irving land was river bottom extending west from the Trinity; part of the terrain was a slightly rolling plain the nurtured and assortment of grasses and brush. Clumps of mesquite marked the northern boundary.
From its inception, Irving typified a small rural Texas town with well-defined economic, social and political boundaries dominated by a few prominent closely linked families. As long as the expansion of population was slow and steady, the proportion of the people to land remained manageable. This condition was altered by increased migration, but when migration first began in 1929, the community was able to assimilate to the influx of people with a minimum of turbulence. In fact, some of the new settlers acquired the rural outlook of the old.
By the mid-thirties, Irving was known as “the Garden spot of Texas.” It prided itself as being a “law and order” town that operated without an organized police force and only a volunteer fire department. Urban Dallasites tended to look upon their sister settlement as a rough and ready community whose inhabitants usually employed frontier methods to solve their problems. Yet people continued to move to Irving, first as a trickle, then in a stream, and finally as a river of diversified humanity.
At first the newcomers were absorbed, often welcomed and to a degree accepted. But as the tempo of migration accelerated in the mid-twentieth century the natural opposition to change, coupled with a need to stem societal transformation, intensified. Old settlers or those who had acquired the same view point feared the coming of suburbia for they assumed that any trend toward urbanization would be accompanied by destructive change. They wanted to keep Irving a rural society content in its provincialism. The ideology underlying their convictions was sincere and motivated by two inherent factors: the belief that change would erode and perhaps even destroy cherished values and the unconscious reaction characterized by the dilemma which confronts man when one era and another begins.
Much of this ideology and insularity was reflected in the school district. Except for the annexation of a small area of land in 1916, the district was content to remain the same territorial size until 1948. Surrounded by several common school districts, Irving made no move to increase its territory although during the same period neighboring districts annexed considerable land.
Until the late forties when a rapidly expanding school population added another dimension, the school district faced basic problem: financing its program, structuring the curriculum, and determining its proper role in relation to the community’s social life. Of the three, financing proved the most persistent and enduring issue often resulting in direct and immediate action. Raising tax rates or evaluations or both were not taken lightly. In 1937, twenty irate taxpayers appeared as a group before a special meeting of the school board to protest tax increases. This demonstration failed to alter the trustees’ decision, and eventually the erstwhile protestors paid the increase plus a penalty charge and court cost in those cases where the district ha filed suit. Group action of this kind set an example for citizen protests and reminded the board that the patrons intended to retain their right to voice dissatisfaction, openly and if necessary, en masse.
Plagued with continuing money problems, the district had a hard time remaining solvent throughout the thirties and forties. As the end of the fiscal year approached, the Irving Independent School District often found itself operating in the red. Prior arrangements made with the Irving Bank for overdrafts enabled it to survive the very real threat of bankruptcy. In 1945, not even overdraft privileges were enough for although the district had raised its taxable values 10 percent it needed $3,000 in order to balance its budget. The Superintendent, A.S. Johnston, applied to the county school board for help. The board granted $2,000 in aid with the understanding that this was only to be used for salaries and was granted only for the 1944-1945 school year. No doubt they were wary of setting a precedent.
In spite of the many financial headlines, the district was proud of its achievements. In 1927, it became an affiliated school which meant that it had demonstrated a certain degree of academic competence to the state department of education. This accreditation meant much to future graduates. Two buildings were added to the district campus allowing upper and primary grades to be housed separately. Through the cooperative efforts of the Parent-Teachers Association and the Rotary and Lions Clubs extracurricular activities were provided at no cost to the district. In the mid-thirties, despite some protests, a combination auditorium-gymnasium was added to the high school building. This provided a building large enough to house most community functions. The Second World War halted further construction, but in 1945 progress continued when funds were voted to erect a much needed cafeteria. A new athletic field complete with new bleachers was acquired at about the same time. The bleachers were purchased at cost when the trustees agreed to five a local builder the exclusive right to buy the old field. Such agreements were generally regarded as good business in most rural communities.
At the beginning of the fall term, 1941, Irving increased the number of grades offered to twelve for white scholastics and eight for non-whites. For a time, the Irving Independent School District maintained a triple school system, as did many other Texas communities. Two one-room schools were operated for non-whites at Trinity Farms. In 1941, the Mexican school had thirty-two students enrolled, but by 1946 the non-white scholastics residing in the district dropped to the point where it was no longer feasible to continue operation of minority schools. Irving paid tuition to nearby Dallas for its six Negro students while students of Mexican extraction apparently became part of the Irving school population.
After serving as Irving’s Superintendent for nineteen years, A.S. Johnston retired at the close of the 1945-1946 school year. His retirement marked the end of an era. During his tenure the district had grown from 400 students and 13 teachers to over 1,500 students and 42 teachers. Statistical increases were only part of the story, for before school opened for Professor Johnston’s last year the school trustees approved the formation of and Irving Teacher’s Association. In less than a year the Association presented the board a petition requesting a minimum salary base of $2,100. The board agreed to a base of $2,000. Irving teachers seemed to have learned that professionals acting together could initiate change.
Though progress had been made, the district’s overcrowded classrooms tended to obscure these strides. Something had to be done, and it was, for a bond election called on May 11, 1946. in this election the voters authorized the issuance of school house bonds totaling $200,000. This one issue exceeded the total of all previous bond issues by $67,500. Within a year the trustees called for another bond election in which the voters approved and additional $70,000 bond issue.
“Pop” Johnston was replaced by Frank S. Morgan, former superintendent at Commerce, Texas. The board granted him a three-year contract at a salary of $4,500 per year. A close associate, W.D. Drummond, was hired as the new high school principal upon Morgan’s recommendation. Generally, Superintendent Morgan was regarded as a good school man, and even before the new school term opened he proposed two curriculum improvements: forming a class in special education and hiring a vocational homemaking teacher. Both programs were approved providing that state aid could be obtained. The tight local budget could not afford many “extras.”
Although curriculum improvement was important, it had to take second place to a greater emergency: the condition of the tax rolls. The trustees authorized a complete tax survey, hoping that this would help to raise revenues. It did not and the tax rate had to be raised to $1.50 per $100 evaluation. At the suggestion of the superintendent, the board adopted a set of written policies, regulations and procedures. Establishing lines of communication with the faculty was encouraged. All in all the board appeared pleased with the new superintendent for most of his suggestions were enacted, and the district’s procedures assumed a more businesslike manner.
Indeed, the trustees must have been very surprised when Morgan resigned his superintendency after only one year of service. He accepted a position at West Texas State College at Canyon. Although no one could blame Morgan for accepting a better position, his move came at an inopportune time. Later, a friend speculated that Morgan had decided to move elsewhere because he saw no strong leadership qualities among the board members. Given Irving’s problems, this lack of leadership potential made the situation tenuous at best.
Attempting to hire a new superintendent just before school was ready to start was not the most ideal situation; but it took only five days to find someone to replace Morgan. Relieved, the board immediately elected the replacement only to have their offer refused. Superintendents were evidently more plentiful in post-was Texas, for four days later the board found another prospect, B.E. (Barney) Dunagan, Superintendent of nearby Wilmer-Hutchins. They elected Dunagan to a three-year contract at a salary of $4,800 per year, plus an expense allowance not to exceed $600 per year. The whole transaction occurred so quickly that the new superintendent’s name was misspelled in the minutes.Resignations seemed contagious for on August 25, `947, R.E. Lee, a newly elected board member, followed suit. His resignation was dated effective as of August 4, 1947. Ironically, this resignation was accepted right after the construction bids for the new high school had been opened. The architect for the building, a member of an old Irving family, had been directed to draw two sets of plans, one with and one without an auditorium. A call for bids had been advertised in the local and Dallas papers. All the bids submitted exceeded the amount of bond money available. Rather than alter the plans and call for new bids, the trustees decided to hire a general building superintendent to supervise the construction of the foundation and oversee the sub-contractors hired for the remaining construction. Not all trustees agreed to this plan. One even requested that his objections from the traditional method of building be recorded. Yet when a motion was made to hire a full time building superintendent responsible for the construction of the new high school at a salary of $600 per month, the motion passed unanimously. The motion that followed, naming R.E. Lee as the new construction superintendent, also received full board approval. In order to expedite finances, a separate fund was established for this construction. To no one’s surprise the fund became known as the R.E. Lee Building Fund.
Lee not only handled all outgoing monies but supervised construction, let contracts, and purchased any construction equipment needed. Building the new high school became his sole responsibility. The board was in all probability, relieved to find someone to take on the high school project for none of the trustees had the time necessary for such an enterprise. They even hired a full time assistant for Mr. Lee.
Throughout the next year, sizeable amounts of money were deposited in the R.E. Lee Building Fund and the fund was audited on a regular basis by an independent audit firm. No irregularities were recorded and when the high school was completed, the board then in office recorded its satisfaction and noted that the erection of the building and installation of equipment had been accomplished at a cost apparently below that of general contract construction. This initial satisfaction, however, was short-lived for later the R.E. Lee Building project proved troublesome.
Creation of any fund like the R.E. Lee Building Fund raises several questions such as: Should public institutions like schools be operated as community enterprises? Can private and public interest be considered compatible? And finally, is there a discernable difference between public good and private gain? Answers obviously would vary depending on the circumstances and individual involved. However, the circumstances leading to the appointment of Lee as building superintendent raised questions of this nature among a small group of the district’s patrons.
Although no audible objections were raised in reaction to the creation of the R.E. Lee Fund, definite cries of foul were heard when the board adopted a restrictive sick leave policy for the entire professional staff. The 1948 troubles can be traced to this action. The policy which passed unanimously was simple and clear: professional staff members would pay substitute costs from their salaries; they would draw the remaining salary for a period not to exceed fifteen days. This rule applied to all professional staff members including the principals and the superintendent. Predictably the teachers’ reacted negatively. But apparently they made no effort to communicate this dissatisfaction directly to the board until November when the high school Principal, W.D. Drummond, and the elementary Principal, Robert H. Copeland, accompanied a teacher delegation to a board meeting for the express purpose of requesting a revision of the sick leave policy. The delegation was told that according to state law no revision of existing policy could be made until the end of the school year.
Dissatisfaction with the sick leave policy was only one manifestation of a diffused aura of discontent. Classrooms were crowded; some packed with fifty or more students. One of every four students enrolled was new to the system. Rumor had it that the “new man” intended to change things to suit himself, even if the change meant replacing personnel. Some actually believed that the superintendent had compiled a blacklist of nineteen teachers who would not be returning the next year. Such tales did not long remain within the confines of the school walls. When hints of the rumors reached the board, they became concerned and convinced that such talk had to be squelched by calling an open faculty meeting to air all grievances. This informal inquiry took on aspects of an inquisition as each teacher was asked to stand, face the board and superintendent, and enumerate any complaints. Although the meeting may have been well intentioned, it missed its mark and may have even served to intensify existing alienations.
Community involvement in small town schools is a natural state of affairs. School problems were town problems. School successes were community endeavors. Irving was no different from any other small Texas town of the late forties. Practically the entire town turned out for school activities, especially the weekly football games. As the 1947 varsity team piled up victory after victory, excitement grew until it reached a fervor pitch. At the end of the season, Irving was justly proud when its team was declared undefeated regional champ.
Local pride can be a powerful force. Considering the state of euphoria which came in the wake of a triumphant season, it must have been difficult for the board to announce to the community that the new high school auditorium could not be constructed because funds allocated for it were needed for classroom construction. In fact, at one point the board reportedly debated about waiting for six months before informing the school patrons of the change. When the announcement was made a few days before Christmas, it greeted with chagrin, but there was really not other choice. Classroom priorities had to be met first. If any seeds of doubt about the capabilities of the district’s officials had been planted earlier, on could speculate that at this point they took firm root.
As he outlined his objectives for the district in the coming year, Dunagan must have optimistically believed that public relations had improved. Open signs of any alienation between the board, the superintendent, and the patrons at large did not appear for another month. Then, a seemingly routine action sparked a controversy which surprised everyone by its swiftness and its emotionalism.
In a regular meeting on January 26, 1948, the board decided to terminate the services of the superintendent’s secretary and voted accordingly. The majority of board members were convinced that the secretary had taken liberties by publicly discussing information which they thought was confidential school business. When they informed the secretary of their action, she was shocked. Believing that she had been unjustly maligned by the superintendent, the ex-secretary appealed her case to each board member in turn. When they refused to reconsider, she appealed to other community leaders.
Within twenty-four hours, board members were informed that a community meeting had been organized for the express purpose of “looking into recent board actions.” After hurried consultation, the school trustees decided it would be wise to attend the meeting to answer any questions and try to alleviate the seeming hysteria afflicting the people. In spite of the cold, icy weather, the arc-ceiling auditorium was filled to capacity. The trustees and superintendent took their places on stage facing the audience. At first, angry questions and accusations were heard from all sides of the hall, but as the meeting progressed tempers cooled. Each trustee was given a chance to explain the board’s actions. Finally, one trustee reminded the audience that only 120 patrons bothered to vote in the last election. With this pronouncement, the assembly gradually dissolved and in ten minutes the hall was cleared except for the school officials still seated on stage. Perhaps the meeting served as a community catharsis, but it resolved little. Underlying tension still existed because lines of communication had not been restored. The only area of consensus was uncertainty.
The board took first action. In a special meeting they closed ranks by unanimously passing a motion stipulating that the “schools endorse the school program outlined by the board and superintendent.” This action did not assuage the many rumors – they seemed to increase rather than subside. Many regarded the superintendent as the culprit and cause of dissention. There was little doubt that division existed among the three administrators.
In March, the Irving Elementary Parent-Teachers’ Association voted to endorse the two principals, Copeland and Drummond, with the specific stipulation that this vote of confidence be brought to the attention of each school board member. This action was reported to each parent in “An Open Letter to the Public” which was mimeographed and sent home with each elementary student.
As expected, interest in the 1948 trustee election ran high. Four candidates filed for the two vacant places. Only one of these was an incumbent. Two of the candidates could be considered representative of the community’s progressive suburbanites. They had decided to stand for office because they thought that something needed to be done about the drastic school conditions, the district’s casual business operations, and the conduct of the superintendent. Voting was heavy with more than 650 ballots cast. And the newcomers were elected by comfortable margins.
It was apparent at the first meeting of the newly constituted board that the former unanimity had eroded as a notion to re-elect the district’s two principals, Drummond and Copeland, failed on a four to three vote. Although aware that this decision would be open to much criticism and conjecture, probably none of the trustees realized the potential impact.
Reaction was immediate and decisive. The next morning the district’s 470 high school students refused to go to classes. Carrying placards and chanting “We want Drummond” they demonstrated in front of the building until the principal asked them to assemble in the gym. Superintendent Dunagan addressed the students and asked them to return to class without giving a reason for Drummond’s dismissal. Most students did return to classes, but not until a committee of ten seniors had been elected to arrange a public meeting that night to which the trustees and parents were invited. Upper elementary students also demonstrated in support of the elementary principal. By mid-morning the students had dispersed, but excitement that had been generated flashed close to the surface all day as groups of mothers congregated in the halls and signs mysteriously appeared on the superintendent’s door. That evening, the Dallas Daily Times Herald carried a picture on its front page with the headline, “Students at Irving Hold Brief Strike.” A similar story with an accompanying picture of a young protesting student appeared in the next edition of the Dallas Morning News.
A description of the mass night meeting was included in this release. The 800 residents who attended the meeting elected a committee to represent them in presenting the issue to the Sate Board of Education. The meeting turned into an open demonstration against the superintendent as approximately twenty people voiced their disapproval of Dunagan, accusing him of being arbitrary and dictatorial. One teacher told the group that he had informed her that she would have a job if she played ball with him. The six-member committee was also empowered to ask the State Board to investigate the school trustees as well. The Dallas Daily Times Herald gave even wider coverage to the meeting in its next edition. Indeed, the Dallas press appeared to enjoy reporting the Irving ruckus.
Composed of three mothers active in the PTA, two ministers and one ex-school board member, the committee did not wait long before acting. Within two days, it called a special meeting for the express purpose of giving the trustees and opportunity to clear up the situation. Its chairman announced that if this did not prove satisfactory, the next step would be to take the matter to the State Superintendent’s office in Austin. The three trustees who had supported rehiring the principals agreed to attend the meeting but according to the Dallas press, the other four wither had no comment or could not be reached. A Dallas Morning News reporter contacted the office of State Superintendent L.A. Woods for comment on the affair. Speaking for Dr. Woods, the Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Terrell Trimble, told the reporter that the situation was a local affair. “We want Irving to settle it locally, unless it gets clear out of hand…so they can’t have school.” Harry W. Rice, Assistant State Superintendent for the area, added that if the state was called, it would have to act, even though such an investigation could be unpleasant.
In spite of the fact that he was literally sitting in the community hot seat, board president Joe Seeber seemed to remain calm. The board, he maintained, had acted within its prerogatives. Although he agreed to meet with the committee, he absolutely refused to take part in any mass meeting.
The next morning headlines in the Dallas Morning News announced that the committee has asked the board to resign en masse. The three members who attended the meeting agreed to this, provided that the other four members followed suit. Headlines in the evening Dallas Daily Times Herald made it clear that the four trustees who had not appeared at the meeting had no intentions of resigning at the request of any citizens’ committee. With the board deadlocked, the committee decided that it had no alternative and wired Austin accordingly, asking officially for an investigation.
“Irving School Row Will Get State Probe” reported the Sunday edition of the Dallas Daily Times Herald; but the week filled with surprises was not over yet. That same afternoon in a called session, the trustees accepted the resignation of W.D. Drummond. The high school principal stated that he intended to enter private business. C.C. Holden, the coach of the successful undefeated football team, was appointed to serve as principal for the remainder of the year.
No official statement had ever been made as to the reason why the board voted not to hire the two principals. Individuals made general references to a lack of cooperation between the superintendent and the other two administrators, but beyond this lay only ugly rumors of clandestine investigations and secret evidence. This personnel change did not alter the plans the citizens’ committee and as its chairman told the press “this was just another incident in the whole situation, but the investigation was still on.”
Harry Rice, the Stat investigative officer, met separately with both the board and the citizens’ committee on April 26, 1948. After holding lengthy discussions with both groups he made recommendations. These were not specified in the Irving Trustees’ Minutes, nor apparently was any record filed in Austin, although newspaper references were made to a report submitted to Dr. Woods. Nevertheless, whatever these recommendations were they did not meet with the approval of the citizens’ committee. In the course of the hearing, Dunagan was presented with a sworn statement apparently alleging misconduct. According to the Irving Trustees’ Minutes, he denied the accusation and requested time to offer further defense. The situation has become very sticky indeed.
On April 28, 1948, the Dallas Morning News reported that the Irving Board had voted to renew all professional contracts for the next year, including one for Copeland. When asked if Dr. Rice had made this recommendation, board president Seeber replied that “it was purely a board action.” This eased the situation some, but troubles were not ended. Impatient with the continued persistence of the citizens’ committee’s attempt to oust Barney Dunagan, L.A. Woods harshly took the group to task as he publicly let his position be known. “We have done our best to settle their troubles without bringing them to Austin. If they don’t get together, we may have to do that, and if they don’t stop their fussing, we are likely to stop their credits.” The warning was clear and the threat of losing accreditation gave many patrons second thoughts before they acted further.
Dr. Rice stoutly maintained that “there was nothing materially wrong in Irving and there was no proof of the allegations about Dunagan.” Several patrons concluded that “the less the state officials found the better they liked it.” Interestingly, Dunagan formally answered the charges lodged against him, but though the Trustees’ Minutes specifically refer to this answer being attached and made part of the minutes, this document has disappeared from the Minute Book.
With the end of the school year close at hand, the trustees decided to attempt to restore communications and cooperation. Each professional employee received a letter with his contract asking for cooperation based on confidence and mutual understanding. Clear warning, however, was given to those who abused “professional privileges” by conducting personal business on school time or engaging in activities subversive to a good school program. No mention was made of any intention to reform the troublesome sick leave policy. The letter closed with an expression of regret for the “unpleasantries for the school year just passed.”
No doubt this attempt to close ranks was well intentioned, but too late to be effective. Yet for another two months the board tried to function in spite of the obvious lack of harmony between it, the superintendent and the community. Some improvements were made in an attempt t correct some of the criticisms levied towards former business practices; e.g., a gasoline pump was installed so that the district could buy its bus fuel at wholesale rather than retail prices; clerical improvements were suggested for keeping school records accurately; copies of all contracts for the district’s files were to be retained in good order. Not all of these improvements met with full community approval.
The summer of ’48 was hot and dry. It was a presidential election year complicated by the Dixiecrat and Progressive splits from the Democratic party. Public attention focused on the oleo-butter debate. Concern was growing over the hot situation in Berlin. But for the seven men who served as public school trustees in Irving, Texas, the most immediate issue centered around their inability to function as an effective and viable board. The trustees were stalemated. One of their original seven who served through the spring turmoil resigned in June because he was unable to endure the unabating pressures. Joint resignation had been suggested before, but it had been rejected in hopes that time would heal the breach. By mid-July it became obvious even to the most optimistic trustee that the breach was irreparable.
On July 23, 1948, after much discussion, the board unanimously voted to resign simultaneously in the best interests of the schools. Their resignation was to become effective immediately, but before they dissolved they ordered a seven-place trustee election held on August 7, 1948.
The citizens’ committee, which had been more or less inactive since L.A. Woods had told his Irvingites to put their house in order, revitalized itself as an enlarged group and drafted a slate of seven candidates to stand for election. After contacting seven possible candidates individually, it met with these men privately at the home of one of the former trustees. The twenty-five members of the enlarged committee represented a diversified group of concerned citizens and the temporary chairman told the press that an attempt had been made to obtain a cross section of community opinion on the committee. When queried as to whether or not the nominees were pledged to oust Superintendent Dunagan, the temporary chairman replied, “We haven’t committed them to any course of action, but have confidence in their judgment. The citizens’ committee still feels that nothing will be settled until that man is out.”
Paul C. Keyes, one of the nominees, convinced the committee and the slate of nominees that unanimity was paramount to any future board actions and recommended that it should either be elected or rejected as a unit. The slate of seven agreed and announced that they had been drafted by a citizens’ committee without any commitment as to action on personnel, administrative or financial problems. Many patrons believed that the matter was near settlement after the July 25 meeting of the citizens’ committee, however, the contest widened when five other candidates entered the race, one withdrawing shortly after filing.
Three of these nominees were backed by a group separate from the original citizens’ committee. They opposed the single slate unit proposal and the candidates were running independently. The fourth candidate, a long time resident and former trustee, ran without any organized support. The seven-man citizens’ committee won hands down as 570 voters cast their ballot in what the Dallas Morning News called “an unexpectedly light turnout.”
Ex-Trustee President Seeber called a special meeting of the old and new boards on August 9, 1948, to officially canvas the ballots and formally constitute the new board. At this meeting he announced that he had received a communication from the State Board which said that the recent election had not been legally held and, “therefore, the members of the old board would have to resign in groups of three, three, and one,” before a new board could be formed. Mr. Keyes suggested that the old board proceed to resign as specified with the remaining quorum appointing the newly elected members to fill vacancies until the change had been completed. This was done, and then the new trustees proceeded to elect officers. To no one’s surprise, Paul Keyes was unanimously elected president, and until his resignation in 1950 all seven trustees were known as the “Paul Keyes Board.”
Son of an Ohio Methodist minister, this handsome, strapping six-foot, two-inch man had moved to Irving in 1945 after successfully concluding thirty-five years of public service as an agent for the United States Treasury Department and the Reconstruction Finance Cooperation. Keyes chose Irving as his retirement home thinking that the small community would provide a peaceful change from the hustle of his former life. As events later showed, he was mistaken for he moved into the middle of one of the faster growing communities in Texas. Naturally gregarious, and passionately interested in civic affairs, Keyes soon became involved in the thick of Irving’s activities, first as a manager of the local Chamber of Commerce, then as School Board President. In an article published after the 1948 school controversy, the Dallas Morning News recognized him as one of the outstanding county leaders and dubbed him the messiah under whose guidance the chaotic Irving school system was reorganized and a major expansion program begun.
Keyes had not been eager to take on “the schools mess” and consented to run only after some persuasion and with the stipulation that he be allowed to help name the rest of the ticket. All the members of the newly elected board were relative newcomers to Irving. None had any local business ties and, Keyes accepted, all were employed in various “white collar” positions. Little did any of them dream that their first year of board services would be as challenging as taking on another full time job. Hours were spent in long board meetings hassling with the seemingly insurmountable problems. In its first year of operation, it was not unusual for the board to meet five nights per week with daytime committee sessions scheduled for Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. Keyes devoted even more time than this, spending almost everyday at the school administration office, overseeing every detail of operation. Later, he would look back upon these two years of school board service as his greatest source of pride. Trustees who had served with him unequivocally maintained that “without Keyes the district probably would not have survived.” Even less admiring patrons who thought that Keyes used his position to usurp power from the superintendent admitted that perhaps this “benevolent dictatorship” was the only available alternative. Once the board decided to resign, Dunagan was dead as the district’s superintendent.
It was unfortunate that Dunagan was either unable or unwilling to extricate himself from the situation. The relationship between a school board and a superintendent is one requiring the maintenance of a delicate balance. Generally, each has a specific responsibility: the board sets school policy and the superintendent executes it. If this balance is disturbed by one attempting to assume the role of the other, the only result possible is abnormal, often precarious, situation. In 1948, the balance between Mr. Dunagan and the board grew beyond restoration. Both knew it and both acted accordingly, thus illustrating that man’s emotions sometimes make it difficult for him to act differently, even though rationally he can discern the consequences of his actions.
Difficulties between Superintendent Dunagan and the “Paul Keyes Board” were only part of the story. Each day brought new problems beginning with entanglement in the Elm Common School-Dallas County Board dispute.
In May, 1948, the County Board, for reasons of efficiency, had decided to consolidate the Elm Common School District with the Irving Independent School District. At the same time, Dunagan made arrangements with the Carrollton Independent School District for annexation of Irving of a small part of the Carrollton district, thus making Irving more than ten miles in length and qualifying it for the continuation of state rural aid even though the Irving Enrollment exceeded the stipulated 1,500 students.
Several residents of the Elm district objected to consolidation with Irving and challenged the County Board’s right to annex their district without first holding an election to see if this was the wish of the majority. They filed suit against the Dallas County Board and on August 19, 1948, the district judge ruled in their favor against the County Board. This presented the County Board with the clear possibility that further annexations by the Board could be prevented by court action. For Irving, the judgment could mean a large loss of revenue and possible bankruptcy unless some other source of state aid could be found. The County Board found a way out of the dilemma by changing its annexation procedure to one based on the citation of recent legislation which allowed annexations of district by county boards without the necessity of holding elections. Yet, while the Elm litigation hung fire, Irving’s financial prospects looked bleaker than ever.
It took more than a year to reorganize Irving’s finances, and for the first several months of the 1948-49 school year the district operated on a day-to-day basis. After immediate needs of housing students, getting supplies, and staffing classrooms, the Board turned its attention to finding some solution to the controversial sick leave policy. Pending the adoption of a definite policy, the Board decided to simply deduct the cost of hiring a substitute from the teacher’s regular total salary, with no other penalties involved. This seemed to be an expedient way to end the misunderstanding which originally ignited the crisis.
On November 23, 1948, Paul Keyes sent a letter to each district taxpayer explaining the district’s financial state and specifying reasons underlying the necessity for an increase of tax assessments. “We want to give you service; not to plan on attack upon your best interests” he concluded, hoping that this would help bridge the gap between the board’s actions and the patrons’ response. The “Paul Keyes Board” encountered many problems in the next two years, but none were allowed to grow to the magnitude of those which faced the district in spring of 1948. Unfortunately, the conditions did not last for in the sprig of 1955 a greater crisis erupted which made all previous ones seem insignificant by comparison.
School districts have interesting and diversified stories too tell. Some have grown slowly, more readily able to absorb the future shock of the twentieth century, while others, like Irving, have had tempestuous experiences. In either case, their histories become a record of how well people have been able to communicate, individually and in groups.
In 1948, the Irving Independent School District experienced a breakdown in its internal communications. Personal animosities, old quarrels, a loss of public confidence, and a lack of professional leadership complicated the issue. Ironically, all the factions involved were probably working toward the same end – a good school system. The difficulty arose in deciding what a good system was and how it could be best achieved. The growing pains of 1948 should have served as a warning of what would happen when groups within an institutional setting reached the level of non-communication. Unfortunately, they did not.
Seven year later, a series of traumatic events shook the very foundation of the community. Although it is not the purpose of this paper to analyze this later crisis, some of the same underlying conflicts that beset the district in 1948 erupted again in 1954-1955. Chaos and turmoil reigned for almost a year. Churches divided, people lost their jobs and homes, old friends became strangers, and even members of the same family ceased to speak to each other.
Hysteria, mob rule, intrigue and violence became the order of the day as the community split asunder. It seemed as if the whole town had gone crazy. Trust and confidence disappeared for everyone was subject to suspicion. By the spring of 1955, the situation became so intolerable that following a teacher strike a majority of citizens voted to dissolve the district and place control of the schools under the jurisdiction of the County Board. Finally, after several months of tenuous negotiations, a few fragile lines of communication were restored when the patrons voted to reconstitute the district.
Time has blurred the crisis of the fifties, but the tragic experience left its scars on both the community and the schools. As yet, these have not completely disappeared.
 Clippings from the Irving Herald, 1927, examined during an interview with Lola Wilson held at her home, Irving, Texas, February 15, 1972; Irving Elementary Parent-Teachers’ Association, Scrapbook: 1936-1950, housed at Lee Britain Elementary School, Irving, Texas; IISD, Board Minutes, VI (April 18, June 7, 1945, May 16, 1946), n. p.
 Dallas County, School Board, Minute Book, II (May 6, 1941), 301.
 Undated clipping examined during an interview with Mrs. Lola Wilson, February 15, 1972; IISD, Board Minutes, VI (July 5, 1946), n. p.
 “Anniversary Issue,“ Daily News Texan (Irving), April 16, 1964.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VI (August 23, 1945, May 31, 1946), n. p.; “Petition from the Irving Teachers’ Association,” attached to IISD, Board Minutes, VI (May 16, 1946), n. p.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VI (April 18, 1946, March 12, 1947) n. p.
 Ibid. (February 18, April 20, 1946), n. p.
 “Resolution as of January 1, 1947,” attached to IISD, Board Minutes, VI (October 7, 1947), n. p.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VI (July 5, 25, 1946, September 5, 9, 1946) n. p.
 Ibid. (August 13, 1947) n. p.
 C.C. Holden, private interview at his office, Irving Public Schools, Irving, Texas March 24, 1972.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VI (August 18, 22, 1947), n. p.
 Ibid. (September 8, 1947), n. p.
 Ibid. (September 22, 1947), n. p.
 “Audit Report—R.E. Lee Building Fund, October 14, 1947-April 30, 1948,” attached to IISD, Board Minutes, VI (April 26, 1948), n. p.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VII (September 13, 1948), 34.
 Ibid, (September 20, 1948), 38.
 Frank R. Shatola , telephone interview with him at his home in Arlington, Texas, March 25, 1972
 “Irving Residents to Ask School Trustee Probe,” Dallas Morning News, April 14, 1948, sect.2, p.1.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VI (August 29, 1947) n. p.
 Dallas Morning News, April 14, 1948, sect. 2, p.1
 “Schools Off on a Spree of Expansion,” Ibid., November 23, 1947, sect. 5, p.1.
 Lee C. Lehmberg, private interview held at his home, Irving, Texas, March 28, 1972.
 Mildred Lehmberg, private interview held at her home, Irving, Texas March 28, 1972.
 C.C. Holden, private interview, March 24, 1972.
 “New Years Resolutions,” attached to IISD, Board Minutes, VI (January 12, 1948), n. p.
 Ibid., (January 26, 1948), n. p.
 Norman G. Sutherland, private interview held at his home, Irving, Texas April 6, 1972.
 Jamine Smith Combs, private interview held at her home, Irving, Texas, March 19, 1972.
 Norman Sutherland, private interview, April 6, 1972; Jasmine Combs, private interview, March 19, 1972.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VI (February 8, 1948), n. p.
 “An Open Letter to the Public,” March 4, 1948, enclosed in the Irving Elementary PTA, Scrapbook.
 Daily Times Herald (Dallas), April 3, 1948, sect. 2, p.1.
 Frank Shatola, telephone interview, March 25, 1948.
 Daily Times Herald (Dallas), April 4, 1948, sect. 1, p.8.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VI (April 12, 1948), n. p.; “Students Strike at Irving.” Daily Times Herald (Dallas), April 13, 1948, sect. 1, p.1.
 Ibid., “Irving Residents to Ask School Trustee Probe,” Dallas Morning News, April 14, 1948, sect. 2, p.1
 Ibid., “State Board to Get Irving Row,” Daily Times Herald (Dallas), April 14, 1948, sect. 2, p.1.
 “Irving Group to View Full School Fight,” Daily Times Herald (Dallas), April 15, 1948, sect.2, p.1; “Committee to Meet,” Dallas Morning News, April 15, 1948, sect. 1, p.9.
 “School Board Resignation Asked,” Ibid., April 16, 1948; “Four Irving School Board Men Have No Plans for Resigning,” Daily Times Herald (Dallas), April 16, 1948; “School Fuss at Irving Goes to State,” Ibid., April 17, 1948.
 “Irving School Row Will Get State Probe,” Daily Times Herald (Dallas), April 18, 1948, sect. 2, p.1
 IISD, Board Minutes, VI (April 18, 1948), n. p.
 With few exceptions, memorists interviewed confirmed the existence of vicious rumors with varying degrees of credibility attributed to the validity of those rumors.
 “New Principal Takes Over at Irving School,” Daily Times Herald (Dallas), April 19, 1948, sect.2, p.1: “Dismissed Principal Quits High School Job at Irving,” Dallas Morning News, April 20, 1948, sect. 1, p.6.
 “Irving School Re-elects Staff,” Dallas Morning News, April 28, 1948, sect. 2, p.1; “Official Raps Irving Fuss Over School,” Ibid., May 2, 1948, sect. 4, p.1. both Articles mention a report of the investigation which was submitted to L.A. Woods’ office; however, a recent examination (April 3-4, 1972) of records from this period in the State Archives and the Texas Education Agency files yield no documented evidence that such a report had been either requested or filed.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VI (April 26, 1948), n. p.
 Dallas Morning News, May 2, 1948, sect. 4, p.1.
 Walter L. George, private interview at his home in Irving, Texas, March 21, 1972.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VI (May 10, 1948), n. p.
 Irving Board of Trustees to Professional Staff, May 24, 1948 attached to IISD, Board Minutes, VI (May 24, 1948), n. p.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VII (July 8, 1948), 5.
 Norman G. Sutherland, private interview, April 4, 1972.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VII (July 23, 1948), 7; “Irving School Board Quits as Body,” Daily Times Herald (Dallas), July 25, 1948, sect. 3, p.1.
 “Irving Group Draft 7 for School Board,” Dallas Morning News, July 28, 1948, sect. 2, p.1.; Walter George, private interview, March 21, 1972; Claud Walker, private interview at his home in Irving, Texas, March 21, 1972.
 “Irving to Select 7 from 11 in School Race,” Daily Times Herald (Dallas), August 6, 1948, sect. 1., p.2; “Irving’s School Dispute Goes to Voters,” Dallas Morning News, August 7, 1948, sect. 2, p.1.
 “Irving Committee’s Choices Voted School Board Seats,” Ibid., August 8, 1948, sect. 5, p.1
 IISD, Board Minutes, VII (August 9, 1948), 8.
 “Retired T-Man County Leader,” Dallas Morning News, January, 1950; “Obituary-Paul Keyes,” Ibid., October 7, 1952, sect.1, p.12
 Walter George, private interview, March 21, 1972; Charles P. Young, private interview held at the offices of Boyd, Young, Gano and Stallings, Dallas, Texas, March 23, 1972; C.C. Holden, private interview, March 24, 1972; John Brandenburg, private interview, March 26, 1972.
 Dallas County, School Board, Minute Book, II (March 26, 1948), 385 (April 12, 1948), 387 (May 10, 1948), 390: IISD, Board Minutes, VI (May 11, 18, 1948), n. p.; “Elm School Union Made with Irving,” Dallas Morning News, May 11, 1948, sect. 2, p.20. The vote taken by the Irving Board on the Elm annexation was divided—five for, two against.
 Dallas County, School Board, Minute Book, II (August 27, 1948), 400; IISD, Board Minutes, VII (August 16, 1948), 14 (August 19, 1948), 17 (August 28, 1948), 24 (September 8, 1948), 31; “Delay Seen in Merging of Schools,” Dallas Morning News, August 22, 1948, sect. 5, 10; “School Board Okays Merger of Elm, Irving,” Ibid., August 29, sect. 1, p.2.
 IISD, Board Minutes, VII (September 27, 1948), 42.
 Paul Keyes to the School Taxpayer Addressed, November 23, 1948.
I Primary Sources
A. Public Documents and Records
Dallas County. Commissioners’ court.
Minutes of the Commissioners’
Dallas County. School Board. Minute Book. Vol. I-II. Dallas, Texas.
Dallas County. School Board. School District Plats. Dallas, Texas
Irving Independent School District.
The Board of Trustees. Minutes: 1934-1950.
Texas Legislature. House. An Act Creating the Irving Independent School District. H.B.10, 31st Legislature, 2nd sess., 1909.
Dallas Morning News. September, 1947 – October, 1948.
Daily Times Herald. Dallas, Texas. December, 1947 – October, 1948.
“Obituary – Paul Keyes.” Dallas Morning News. October 7, 1952.
“Retired T-Man County Leader.” Dallas Morning News. January, 1950.
Brandenburg, John J. Private interview held at his office, Irving Bank and Trust Company, Irving, Texas. March 22, 1972.
Combs, Jasmine Smith. Private interview held at her home, Irving, Texas. March 19, 1972.
Fulton, Mrs. R.E. Private interview held at her home, Irving, Texas. March 18, 1972.
George, Walter Private interview held at his home, Irving, Texas. March 21, 1972.
Holden, C.C. Private interview held at his office, Irving Independent School District, Irving, Texas. March 24, 1972.
Lehmberg, Lee C. and Mildred Lehmberg. Joint interview held at their home, Irving, Texas. March 28, 1972.
Shatola, Frank R. Telephone interview with him at his home, Arlington, Texas. March 25, 1972.
Sutherland, Norman G. Private interview held at his home, Irving, Texas. April 6, 1972.
Walker, Claud. Private interview held at his home, Irving, Texas. March 21, 1972.
Wilson, Lola. Private interview held at her home, Irving, Texas. February 15, 1972.
Young, Charles. Private interview held at the offices of Boyd, Young, Gano and Stallings, Dallas, Texas. March 23, 1972.
D. Special Materials
Irving Elementary Parent-Teachers’
Association. Scrapbook: 1936-1950.
Letter. Paul Keyes to the School
Taxpayer Addressed. November 23, 1948.
II Secondary Works
“Anniversary Edition.” Daily News Texan. Irving, Texas. April 16, 1964.
Eby, Frederick. “The First Century
of Public Education in Texas.”