The recent DISD board of trustees meeting, which began on July 21, 2014 and extended into the wee hours of July 22, was a window into who is really in control of the district. Despite grand statements and posturing, despite many on the board agreeing that they had indeed not yet done a formal evaluation of the superintendent, and despite wisdom which screams the need for evaluation prior to contract negotiation, the board voted 7-2 to extend Miles’ contract.
The meeting began at 5:30 pm. Of particular note, Stephen Mansfield, the new president of the Dallas Regional Chamber, was present. So was Trisha Windham, director of Educate Dallas, the PAC of the Dallas Regional Chamber, as well as Angela Farley, Vice President of education for the Chamber and on the board of the Dallas Education Foundation.
This might not be considered unusual, except that there were very few members of the public present, as the meeting was expected to go into closed session immediately. Were they there to ensure that eight of the nine trustees had a visual reminder of the vast amounts of money contributed to their campaigns by Educate Dallas as well as various members of the Chamber? Did they want to remind the trustees of the far-reaching influence of the Chamber and their members? Did they simply want to reinforce their statements to the trustees and flex their considerable muscle regarding the desire of the Chamber to see Miles’ contract extended now, against all common sense?
Let’s look at some of the statements which were made by various trustees, some of which were contradicted by other trustees, and see if the way each trustee voted was consistent even with their own statements. This might suggest that some trustees were influenced by something other than logic. We will use a 10 point scale for evaluation of the trustees.
“We did not conduct an official evaluation process whatsoever.”
“I want to emphasize that this board has made an exception, because our process requires that we do these considerations after a full oversight of the evaluation process itself….”
“The discussion tonight does not equal an evaluation.”
“Getting the information on the same day as you’ve been asked to make a decision is never good governance practice, it undermines the responsibility of the board….”
“We do not have all the data for the 2013-2014 academic year. We have the performance evaluation from 2012-13 but not from 2013-2014.”
How do you think Trustee Jones voted in the end? She wanted to go on the record as being “very supportive” of Miles’ reforms. “I want to stay the course.” She voted FOR the contract extension.
Score: Zero for consistency, three for logic, zero for the ability to apply good sense.
“For the past 2 years we have heard a lot about evaluations for our key employees at our campuses. Last few weeks we have gotten emails after emails, phone calls after phone calls, textings, advising us to give the superintendent additional time on his contract. And when I respond to some of them about the process and having the evaluation first, I got very little response. It was only about the contract.”
“But yet in this case, for our number one employee, evaluation was put aside.”
“I would hope that the superintendent does not operate this way with the rest of our employees.”
“What is the point of a rigorous evaluation system if you’re not going to use it to make employment decisions?”
“I don’t see why it would cause any harm to the district or to the superintendent if we wait until next week to finish his evaluation and then take a vote on the contract.”
Trustee Blackburn had some great one-liners, but how did he actually vote? YES to the contract extension for Miles, despite the confirmation by legal counsel that there had been no evaluation of the superintendent and despite his own stern comments on the need for such an evaluation.
Score: Zero for consistency, 5 for logic, zero for the ability to apply logic.
“I have often heard board members talk about “we need to run the district like a business.” Well, that’s only when it’s convenient, because no business would ever grant a president or CEO a raise, or an extension on a contract, without an evaluation.”
“This looks like we don’t want to hold the superintendent accountable.”
“We hold everyone else accountable yearly. It makes absolutely no sense to me for us to be moving forward without holding the superintendent accountable.”
How did the new Trustee Foreman vote? In a manner completely consistent with reality and with her comments, trustee Foreman voted AGAINST the contract extension.
Score: 10 for consistency, 10 for logic, 10 for the ability to apply wisdom to the situation.
Trustee Bingham referred to a large box full of data which she had at her home, “more than I can look at in an entire year.” She implied that she had not gone through that data, and she then referred to what she termed “anecdotal data” which she had on “various things going on in the district.” Therefore, she stated, “I am prepared to move forward tonight.” It appeared that Trustee Bingham put more faith in her own unscientific and unreliable hearsay than in the district data or a formal evaluation. She later referred to vague “bold and courageous moves” by the superintendent and reiterated her support for Miles.
Ms. Bingham’s vote? Consistent with reliance on anecdotes rather than the risk of confronting the real numbers, she voted YES to extend Miles’ contract.
Score: 10 for consistency, zero for logic, zero for acumen.
“I agree with the trustees’ sentiment that we have not conducted a formal evaluation of the superintendent. I would also point out that there is no provision in his contract that states we need to conduct that evaluation before we have a conversation around his contract.”
“We have the opportunity to establish and solidify the leadership of this district now.”
Trustee Jones repeatedly questioned Solis as to the logic behind a contract extension without a formal evaluation and why this had been brought forward at this time, questions which he successfully evaded.
Solis stated that for Miles to donate the money made from consulting to the district “is admirable.” However, the money will not go to the district as Solis stated, but instead will go to the Dallas Education Foundation, referred to by WFAA news as “an arm of the Chamber of Commerce.” How convenient is that? Miles can now make money for the Chamber.
Trustee Solis voted FOR the contract extension.
Score: 10 for consistency, zero for logic, and zero for judgment.
“I’m fully prepared to move forward tonight.”
In reference to allowing the superintendent consulting opportunities: “I have no issues with what the superintendent does on his vacation time.”
“We have an opportunity to continue the reforms that have been initiated by this superintendent….I for one would like to see more fruits of our labor. I have enough information personally to know that I want to continue this journey with superintendent Miles and his executive staff and our current teachers and principals and other employees to make Destination 2020 a success.”
Um, someone please send Trustee Cowan the data on teacher and principal turnover in the district and inform him that the only member of Miles’ executive staff to continue the journey with him is Ann Smisko- the rest have already abandoned the bus.
Trustee Cowan voted YES to extend Miles’ contract.
Score: 4 for consistency, zero for logic, and zero for rationality.
Trustee Micciche tried very hard to convince himself and the board that what they had done that night could actually be counted as the real evaluation.
“I would have supported this motion (to postpone the contract extension until after the superintendent’s evaluation) if we had not spent 3 hours and 10 minutes going through all of the evaluation data. It was an informal evaluation but it was extensive and included all of the student achievement data.”
Really? Trustee Jones said that they did not receive the 2013-2014 performance evaluation. Which is it, Trustee Micciche? Did you receive something she did not?
“…we have protected the district and that we have thoroughly looked through all of the evaluation criteria.”
The bad news is that this contract extension guarantees that Miles will be fully vested (2012-2017) in the TRS. Even if he is fired, his contract will still be valid and the board must pay his TRS until 2017. So the taxpayers then will foot the bill for his retirement. Trustee Micciche said that the district was protected; he never said that the taxpayer was protected. This is the same game plan the trustees followed for former superintendent Hinojosa. In 2010, the trustees gave Hinojosa a 3 year contract extension. He left in 2011 for Atlanta, with a $200,000 per year pension paycheck from Texas in hand.
Micciche expressed his belief that “continuity of leadership is important” and stated “I don’t want to disrupt the movement by changing horses in the middle.” Someone needs to copy Micciche on the memo to Cowan concerning the stability of Miles’ leadership, as well as remind him of the wonders of “disruptive change.”
Trustee Micciche voted FOR the contract extension.
Score: Three for consistency, two for logic, and zero for prudence.
Trustee Nutall questioned the attorney to ascertain that the board had not, in fact, conducted a formal evaluation of the superintendent. She expressed concern that the board has been accused of not discussing student achievement, and that it was irresponsible for the board to discuss a contract extension when they have not discussed the reason they exist as a board: “to ensure the academic success of all our students.”
She reiterated that she had repeatedly requested, both of the past and current board president, a full presentation by Miles on the academic achievement of the students in DISD, and that this had not yet been done. She stressed that they should first evaluate the superintendent, then talk about a contract extension. Trustee Nutall also objected to the allowance for consulting, stating that “we need a full-time superintendent” and “we need the superintendent’s full attention.” She implored the board to look at the Destination 2020 data and declared that “we’re not making progress.”
Trustee Nutall voted AGAINST the contract extension.
Score: 10 for consistency, 10 for logic, and 10 for discernment.
Trustee Morath has been unfailing in his support of the superintendent, despite leading the charge to dismantle the district because he says it is performing so terribly, and change it into a Home Rule Charter School District (HRCSD). Could there be some kind of under the table deal going on here? If the district is changed into an HRCSD, the attorneys have stated that the new district is still responsible for all ongoing contracts until they run out. Therefore, it won’t matter to Miles whether or not the district is completely changed and whether or not he will have a position in the new HRCSD. Regardless, he will still get paid until 2017 and receive his full pension.
Trustee Morath rather smugly stated that “while we as a board have not come together and finalized the formal evaluation, it sure looks to me that I have evaluated the superintendent.” Other trustees pointed out that the evaluation is something which the board must do collectively together, not as individuals.
Trustee Morath later spoke directly to Miles, saying, “This is a commitment to the reforms that you have initiated, to you and to your leadership team…. Do what you need to do to make sure that we have folks that are motivated, and committed to the reforms for the long haul, around you and in all of our campuses.”
Teachers and principals, please take note of that last sentence. Remember an article not too long ago about Miles equating teacher effectiveness with compliance, not performance. It sounds as though Miles is going to continue to have free rein to enforce his nonsensical programs.
Trustee Morath, as promised, voted FOR the contract extension.
Score: 4 for consistency, zero for logic, and zero for insight. Special prize for arrogance.
So, why is it that the DISD board of trustees acts in such illogical fashion? Not one trustee could justify the called emergency meeting in July to discuss a contract extension for an employee who had not yet received their performance evaluation. Could it be that there was a connection between the three influential visitors from the Dallas Regional Chamber and the votes which were cast? Were the Chamber members there to remind the board of who really runs the district? Could it be that the trustees, despite their big words, are not really in control? This is about the only explanation which makes sense of the total disconnect between the board’s actions and reality.