Jennifer Sprague, DISD's New Communications Chief, Will Make $185,000 a Year. Yes, That's Too Much.

jennifer-sprague.jpeg
Jennifer Sprague
Big front-pager in today's Morning News about how Mike Miles, Dallas ISD's new superintendent, will pay his new communications chief, Jennifer Sprague, $185,000 a year. The general consensus among those interviewed for the story: Holy hell that's a lot of money for that job. Which makes sense because, well, holy hell that's a lot of money for that job.

Look: Executives for big companies and organizations make big money, usually necessarily. The market requires it. And journalists' reactions to public-employee salaries reliably contain a little jealousy, especially for communications jobs. We consider those reporter-sell-out jobs, even if we would totally suck at them, which we would. It's depressing to learn that our Plan B pays so much more than Plan A.

But this is about more than just how much the job pays (although it is very much about that). It's also about who got hired, and how.

For starters, though: Holy hell that's a lot of money for that job. The top communications executive for the school district in New York City makes $125,000. Chicago: $165,000. Miami: $114,000. Las Vegas: Not exactly sure, but no one except the supe there appears to make more than $165,000. All of those school districts are larger than Dallas ISD, and the first three cities are more expensive than Dallas.

In fact, the only large-district communications chief I could find who makes that much is in Houston, which is a bigger school district. And that hire wasn't without controversy.

I spoke with Sprague -- who is 31, by the way -- about her salary this morning. She told me that her job is unique, a combination of marketing, messaging, programming and more. She said, humbly but forcefully, that she's worth the money.

"Historically communications is not valued at the level Mike values it," she said.

Most communications people sit at a desk cranking out press releases and answering media queries, she said. "I work differently. ... Whenever you have school reform, or any change, it has to be programs, it has to be initiatives ... That takes high-level, strategic-minded people."

I asked her whether any school districts view their communications chief the same way, so we could compare her apples to theirs. She couldn't name any of comparable size.

"It's rare," she said. "It's taken a lot of time for school districts to catch up" to the for-profit-world marketing-wise, she said. For-profit communications executives make even more, she pointed out.

But here's the thing: Education communications just isn't that specialized a field. Chief Academic Officer? Not a lot of people can do that in a big district. Chief Technology Officer? Doing that for a large school district a specific, high-pressure job. Low supply, high demand. Big money. Compliance, talent development, legal affairs: There are plenty of areas of public education that require a really specific set of skills. But communications isn't one of them. It's sales, basically, only for almost every customer you have, yours is the only product they've ever heard of.

Besides: Even if the job is worth $185,000 a year, that doesn't mean Miles had to pay Sprague that much to do it. Sprague made $86,000 doing the same job at Miles' old school district in Colorado Springs. Wouldn't she have done it here for $100,000? $125,000? (I asked her; she changed the subject.)

This is a cabinet-level position, Miles told the News, so it deserves a cabinet-level salary. But this ain't Facebook. When your "business" is staring at a multi-million-dollar budget gap, you don't pay more than you have to. You pay what the market demands, and when things improve -- when that employee helps things improve -- you give her the raise she deserves, to keep someone else from snapping her up.

Also: If you've got $185,000 a year to play with, is Sprague the best candidate for the job? Miles hired Sprague two weeks after he accepted the position. Did he look at other candidates? Did he, in the spirit of the run-it-like-a-business reform movement, mine the for-profit world for any potential hires?

Did he look into whether any of the communication executives in those other big cities would be interested? Look at their track records? (I've asked several times to interview Miles. I think we'd have fun. No dice so far.)

If Miles really wanted someone he was familiar with, someone with a proven track record, he might have looked at Janelle Asmus, the Chief Communications Officer of the education department in his old state, Colorado. When I asked Sprague for examples of communications executives whose job is similar to what she does, Asmus was the only name she mentioned. Asmus did the job in Adams County for a while, Sprague said, and she was so good she got poached by the state.

I talked to Asmus this afternoon. Nice woman. She makes $118,000 a year.


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16 comments
lp
lp

Lets look at the facts: 1: We have heard NOTHING of the "great" things Ms. Sprague has done for Colorado, yet DISD. She brings nothing to the table that any other high level PR/Communicatons/Marketing guru from Dallas could do. 2. "Mike" as she refers said it best in referring that people are picking on her because of her looks; seriously the only one referring or considering her looks is "MIKE". 3. I've been in communications for many years, yes as a Plan B that went to Plan A, and NO not-for-profit company/organization pays that much in salary to someone with the years of experience she lacks. 4. Yes, I too wonder about her relocations, mileage/car, etc... package total   Let's hear all the details Mr. Mike and SHOW US RESULTS OF HOW YOUR JENNIFER IS WORTH MORE THAN $1.50 A MINUTE, WHILE YOUR TEACHERS GET PAID IN PEANUTS. 

Ggarth
Ggarth

And that dwindling tax base is precisely why Spragues should be paid significantly more than others in comparable positions. Oh wait...

Gnhtrc
Gnhtrc

She obviously puts out.

fur flying
fur flying

I'm certain there was a relocation package where DISD has to buy her a house in Dallas and purchase her old one in Colorado.  Wonder what other pricey perks were in her Offer of Employment?

Thelisma Partridge
Thelisma Partridge

"...ensuring that the image and stories are manipulated to such a degree that even someone who knows otherwise would be swept up in the propaganda" I believe that's called "spin" in the PR industry...

HSD2 Teacher/TFA '09
HSD2 Teacher/TFA '09

I have taught in Harrison School District 2 (where Miles is coming from) for the past 3 years.  I also happen to be a Teach For America Corp Member '09.  I have seen first hand how good Sprague is.  She has done a brilliant job for Mr. Miles, ensuring that the image and stories are manipulated to such a degree that even someone who knows otherwise would be swept up in the propaganda.  Miles is a politician and knows exactly what he needs to do to solidify success. 1. Obtain absolute power from the School Board 2. Break the Union in the name of "educational reform" 3. Remove all teachers who either cost too much or are not "flexible in their thinking" (ie. those who won't drink the Kool-Aid he is serving) 4. Replace those costly teachers who are not good "soldiers" with cheap labor that will be twice as productive and who will order kegs of his Kool-Aid (see TeachForAmerica.org) 5. Continue to promote self as a "Educational Reformer" via help from your Communications Chief Officer @ 186 K annually I know this plan because I was on both sides of step 3 and 4.  I replaced one of those old, expensive teachers who didn't do anything and who was only there for a paycheck; at least that is what I was told.  As soon as I became an excellent teacher and they had to pay me a salary according to my performance, I was forced out and replaced with a TFA who will work for 25 K less than my salary.  Basic economics...How do you think they will afford her salary?  By replacing the non-conforming with a bunch of TFA Corp Members.  I know because I was one.

BillySea
BillySea

I love it 5 times the salary of most teachers her age.  I promise they could hire someone just as competent for $60,000.  No wonder DISD is in trouble.

Carlita
Carlita

  Mikey is out of touch with the real world. Like a duck out of water. Mikey Miles should know that when a Dallas ISD superintendent starts claiming race or gender discrimination. We all know he is lying.I am sure he feels satisfied and hiring a trusted old friend he thinks can do a job for him, even if no search was made for better qualified candidate. I am sure is a communicator professional oral & wriding skills make up the difference. What we object to is the ridiculous salaries, including his ridiculous salary. Get this Mikey it is about the money, money, money, money, money, money, get it! We are not supposed to have any???????????????????

Keford69
Keford69

How can he hire her if she failed the PRSA test.  I think as citizens in Dallas, we should investigate!!!!

Djclaire
Djclaire

It is sad to see Dallas ISD allow blatant overpaying of it "executive" while at the same time shorting the hard working teachers and support staff.  Guess they are expendable whereas an unproven executive in a position of this size is indispensable.  Even if she can eliminate problems there are many much more qualified people out there doing the same job for a lot less.  Why does Dallas think they need to pay more?  Guess they need to raise the property taxes!

Urbandweller203
Urbandweller203

Agreed. Most adulterous sluts are not paid this type of salary and put on a pedestal for everyone to see. They usually turn out to be in lower positions no one cares about. No one has said anything about the $220K paid to the over paid male. She is not a whore, she is a professional women who want to get paid for covering someone's ass and possible being the scapegoat if they fail. Problem is, mums the word on the BoT.

Urbandweller203
Urbandweller203

Yes indeed and thanks for pulling that point out. I didn't think about the fact his colorado staff will be loyal to him. You're right on it.  No one on that board has said a word on this. One  new board member questioned it but left it along. But, I believe if Offord would have been selected, he would have spoken loud, but who is to say he would have continued to keep it up. See,  beating Nutnall would have put him in a compromising position, with campaign debt; being that money seemed to tone the voices or sway ones initital belief. RT, I honestly believe if this young man would get him an out of state mentor; far away from Dallas, get some bonifide education,  a less dramactic approach and a more strategic approach, not play to other people agenda's but to the agenda of  education children, he could whip the socks or stockings off of Nutnall the next time around. He should become a bonifide independent so that he does not have to bow down to party politics. Your point well taken. I can't speak on a national level, (too complex) but locally,  its party politics (democrat) that is sinking southern Dallas. Anyone that have real solutions would  not dare run for office in Dallas southern section and have their reputation torn to 100 million pieces. The key solution is change the demographic and the politics will change...that's the challenge.

RTGolden
RTGolden

The people who are ultimately responsible for this decision WERE voted on by the taxpayers in their districts.  Anyone who voted for an incumbent BoT member, who was sitting when they hired Miles, had a hand in this spending debacle.   This is, essentially the same Board that brought in Hinojosa.  Why would anyone think the Board would suddenly gain fiscal responsibility when bringing in Miles?  If you keep voting for Bernadette Nuttall, Blackburn, Medrano, Bingham, Morath, etc  you will keep getting a district run in this fashion.  The board that was sitting when Miles was hired shirked their responsibility to the taxpayer when they gave him such wide latitude in setting salaries for his staff.  And make no mistake, this is HIS staff.  They do not, and will not, answer to the board, because they don't have to.  If they don't answer to the board, they don't answer to the voters, the parents, the teachers.  They don't answer to anyone. My advice to the board would be, buyout Miles' contract now, get rid of him.  Do it before the ink dries on the two 'cabinet' positions he has already hired.  Then do a real search, within the district, for proven, solid upper level management and pay them salaries comparable to others in the field.   My advice to everyone else in Dallas, stop voting for the people who continually get us into these messes.  On every level, city, county, state, school, national, stop voting for the same old people and parties.  Do some research, find an independent candidate, or a third party candidate, who closely aligns with your views and vote for them. Perhaps Offord would have been a dismal failure as a school board trustee.  But, this particular situation is tailor made for him.  What better way to put one's mark on the District, fix one's name in the minds of the voters, than to go out and raise holy hell about this particular hiring at this particular salary?  Why isn't anyone on the Board doing so?

Urbandweller203
Urbandweller203

It’s only fair to allow a person the opportunity to do their job, especially when they are face with previous management and financial problems.  I am hoping for the best for Mike Miles to make a difference, but damn, he’s made it hard for the average hard working tax payer to agree with him on a $185K and $220k salary decision.  After 2 years,  DISD would have spent $810K; almost 1 million dollars for two people. Furthermore, I was hoping he would respond with an explanation, but all he could say is that he trust them. What the.... then he says "cabinet level” position; a subliminal word use  to distort the fact that the positions were not considered for other candidates.  Those position are not appointed positions. This is a school district, not the White House where there are legitimate appointed positions by the President. To me, this is disturbing. What is most disturbing is that no one has challenged or questioned his choices.  A million dollar wait-n-see.  Why not list the skills used by these individual to show how they made a difference in their previous position.  Why not state how the children benefited, and was there any difference in  within the admin-teacher-student-parent partnership?  I believe the salaries are safety net salaries.  In other words, “ I will go, but if this shit don’t work, or if I fall on my ass, I need to be compensated to  rebuild my reputation”.  That the only way I would follow my boss to  DISD; a large district located in the inner-city, where the FBI is hot on the comish’s ass for alleged corruption, a school board that,  well…… where votes can literally be bought, etc…  Almost a million tax payer’s dollars over 2 years; 1.2mil over 3 years  all because he trust them.  In the private sector, or when you own your business, you hire those you trust and people you can work with at your own discretion.  When salaries are supported by tax payer’s, more explanation should be demanded.  Yet the teachers are losing their jobs. Just like a judge who makes decision that affects many lives, they have to be elected by the people. I believe, at this point, people who make life changing decisions on education should be voted in by the people who pay the taxes. This way they will have a platform to say what they will do or will not do, their plan, staff, etc.

UnderDog
UnderDog

Okay, Betty....you are absolutely right.  So after you put down that tumbler of Kool-Aid, with your "number of people impacted" nonsense, the stupid knothead will make three times my salary.  And, after 17 years of teaching, I believe I TOO have "impacted" CHILDREN....way more than she.  Perhaps you can help me with this BUDGETARY math problem:  I will be teaching fifty kids on Monday for summer school and what did I get for their supplies??? ONE BOOK and ONE PACKAGE OF NOTEBOOK PAPER.  I was told that's all the district was giving.  Really??? Wake up.  Maybe I can call JenJen and ask her to buy students school supplies for the next month.....

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