Mike Miles and the Bad Annual Review Issue: More Bullshit from The Dallas Morning News

Categories: Schutze

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No rest for the reformer.
Right away let me say: No one is more troubled than I am by my own knee-jerkism concerning Dallas superintendent of schools Mike Miles. How the hell did I ever find myself in the role of predictably apoplectic apologist for a public official? Please, somebody free me from my own alliteration!

But not yesterday. Yesterday I needed all my initial consonants. The Dallas Morning News had a big editorial lambasting Miles for giving a low performance rating to the head of an internal school district investigative unit who had investigated, among other people and things, Mike Miles.

So it looked bad, the News said. Here the guy gets investigated, and then he tries to get back at the person who investigated him by giving him a bad performance review. The News pointed out that the internal investigation spurred a further external investigation by former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins.

"Eventually, Coggins cleared Miles of the initial allegations, but the episode left trustees and others wondering aloud about the superintendent's judgment and demeanor," the editorial stated.

Yeah, well please allow me to present a very different take on that whole process. Coggins, who was paid 50 grand for his work, combed over the investigative report produced by Don Smith, head of the school district's Office or Professional Responsibility or OPR, and found it was a jumble of bullshit allegations, not one of which would stick, ginned up with heavy participation by school board members out to get Miles over school reform and teacher pay and tenure issues.

Nothing in Smith's investigative report or Coggins' first review of it gave Miles' enemies on the board the red meat they needed to take him down. They didn't even get a cold hot dog. So the board members most involved in persuading Smith to do the initial investigation, Carla Ranger, Bernadette Nutall and Elizabeth Jones, goaded Coggins to give it another try.

Coggins agreed to expand his probe to look into charges that Miles had wrongly allowed a top executive's resignation letter, legally a public document, to be made public. Try that on for size. But for this offense -- wrongfully allowing a public document to be made public -- Coggins came back and suggested to the board they could fire Miles. The charge? Not maintaining a good relationship with them.

What good relationship?

Miles was not fired. But that sequence of events is what the News apparently was referring to when it said yesterday, "the episode left trustees and others wondering aloud about the superintendent's judgment and demeanor."

Yeah, well, "aloud" is about the only true word there.

All of this should take us back to a strongly parallel scenario last winter when Nutall, without any permission or proper vote from the rest of the board, whispered in the ear of a person serving as interim auditor of the district, who was eager to get the full-time job, asking her to do an audit of Miles. Before the audit was complete, before it had been shown to Miles for comment, before it had been presented to the board, a draft was leaked to the Morning News. It said, "As a result of our review, we determined rules were violated and undue influence prevailed throughout the business process prior to and subsequent to the transition phase of Superintendent Miles."

The term, undue influence, is about two pennies shy of an allegation of criminality. So, wow. An internal audit discovers that Miles is a damn crook or something? And maybe here is how I got so obsessed on this subject in the first place.

Miles called the draft audit "a witch hunt." I wrote a hasty piece saying any guy who can't take a bad audit and calls it a witch hunt ought to get a ride out of town on a rail. Then I got a copy of the draft audit. Oh, damn it! It was witch hunt. In fact, in the realm of witch hunts, this was a crap witch hunt.

For proof of what a piece of junk it was, you had to look at the eventual completed audit, from which all mention of "undue influence" was expunged. Expunged because Miles got it expunged? Oh, hell no, not with those board members riding close herd, hoping for any scrap they could use to get him. The whole undue influence thing went away because it was never remotely supportable by the evidence in the first place.

That's exactly what happened with the OPR report. This is what we need to remember: None of the wild allegations in the OPR report held up. It was all junk. It was a crap witch hunt all over again.

In order to keep his client happy and justify his fee, Coggins had to come up with the charge of wrongfully making a public document public. (Disclosure: The charge was more specifically that the document, a resignation letter in which a top district executive said he was quitting because board member Jones was driving him crazy, was "leaked" to me personally. I say the only opportunity here for a violation of law would have been any effort to withhold or hide a public document from me.)

The guy who did the bad internal investigation of Miles worked for Miles. He did then, anyway. Since then the same board members have re-engineered the deal so that the investigative guy works for them directly. But at the time of the bogus report, he worked for Miles. Miles was his boss. And Miles had to do an evaluation saying how good the guy was at investigating.

What would you have said? Sterling fellow, really gets those investigations right, wears a good suit, really like the cut of his jib, never a problem except for that one huge blow-up that almost stalled school reform in the city over bogus allegations and crap gossip all of which turned out to be false that he only put in his report in the first place to suck up to my enemies on the school board.

Maybe the dumbest thing in the News editorial is the line about the incident leaving "trustees and others wondering aloud about the superintendent's judgment and demeanor." No, it left his enemies on the board wanting to kill him. It left them wanting to ride him out of town on a rail.

Listen, the opposition to Miles is about jobs and patronage, seniority pay versus merit pay for teachers and certain personality disorders on the school board. The fake audit and the fake internal investigation were ruses to deflect public attention from what's really going on and what's really at stake.

Dallas is not the Lone Ranger on any of this. These very same battles are being fought in major urban school districts all over the country. We must expect the defenders of patronage and seniority pay to fight tooth and nail against school reform here, because they are fighting it everywhere else as well.

They don't like the optics of publicly defending patronage and bad teachers, so they want to personalize the fight, make it ad hominem. They say it's all about American school superintendents suddenly becoming an entire race of crazy badass sons of bitches working for the damn 1 percenters. Nobody ever explains why in the hell the damn 1 percenters would give a crap about big urban public school systems. Aren't their kids all in med school in the Turks and Caicos Islands or something?

We will not get out of this easy, because nobody will get out of it easy. School reform is a national movement and a national fight. There is no sweet way home. On the path to meaningful reform, a whole lot of ugliness lies in wait. We would be cowards to turn aside.

Don't get conned.

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45 comments
holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Maybe the DMN Ed Board should open an investigation on Managing Editor George Rodrigue over his outing of Mike Snyder?

Insinuate criminality.  Hire Paul Coggins.  Go public.  Run his wife and kids out of town.

Then sue him if he dings them in the areas of trustworthiness and fairness.

That basterd.  I hate him already.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

That smear caused Miles to evacuate his wife and children for security reasons.

It got personal.  The lie was designed to intimidate.  

It was a scummy thing to do. 

DISDmomandgrad
DISDmomandgrad

"[T]he opposition to Miles is about jobs and patronage, seniority pay versus merit pay for teachers and certain personality disorders on the school board." WRONG. It may be about that for some people--clearly the trustees have issues of their own--but parents, students, and teachers all have very, very legitimate gripes against this superintendent, and I have yet to see the Observer give them any credence.  

bmarvel
bmarvel

Jim -

You've been a reporter how many years? And it's never occurred to you that giving the guy being investigated the authority to fire or otherwise mess with the guy doing the investigation is a very, very bad idea. Does the phrase "Saturday Night Massacre" ring a bell?

Look, Miles could be as white as a duck eating marshmallows in a blizzard. His enemies might be vindictive slime. everything else you say in this column may be dead on. Doesn't matter. This stinks. The News was right. I know you're a pundit, but still you're a journalist. Don't tie your creds to any single person, ever.  


IgnatiusJ
IgnatiusJ

Can't  they all just go to Chili's and talk about it like adults?

bruce.levy1
bruce.levy1

"Listen, the opposition to Miles is about jobs and patronage, seniority pay versus merit pay for teachers and certain personality disorders on the school board."

Jim: I have no doubt that some of this is true.  Even so, the fact is that Miles wants to replace their guys with his guys, to take control over patronage, not get rid of it!  Miles wants his "Yes" people, not theirs. 

But--and far more important--are you saying that this is ALL the opposition to the things that you call Miles' "reforms" are about?  To say that is to demean and belittle the serious debate about pedagogy and policy that gets lost within all this infighting. You're antipathy to some of the Caciques in South Dallas, while not entirely unfounded, has diverted your attention from serious issues.  Many life-long educators in DISD and beyond have serious issues with what Miles is up to.  That is a worthwhile debate to have.  

James080
James080 topcommenter

Miles should have fired Smith. As Coggins' report pointed out , Smith's investigation was without merit. The OPR investigation of Miles was clearly politically motivated, very likely at the request of the anit-Miles faction on the Board. The quid-pro-quo for Smith to roll over on his boss was recently announced. The Office of Professional Responsibility now answers to the Trustees. Witch hunting season has officially opened.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

While I feel there is plenty to dislike about Miles' reform efforts, it's both sad and typical that the Board is resorting to character assassination and patronage politics instead of having an honest and open debate about the pros and cons of his policies (some of which do make sense).


wcvemail
wcvemail

In the bigger picture, when did school superintendents become the single, must-have, be-all-end-all, fixit/problem for American public education? First these folks are courted like A-list celebrities, courtship requiring massive expenditures on national searches by niche headhunter firms because no ass't superintendent anywhere is worthy of promotion to the head position in his/her own district.

Then the supes are expected to turn around entire, large districts, regardless of local environment, immediately upon hiring, or they're considered not just organizational failures, but ethical and legal failures. Pressure is such that many do fail ethically and legally (DISD, Atlanta, et al.)

Bigger than DISD's board (despite those members' heartfelt beliefs that there is NOTHING bigger than themselves), this is seen nationally. How did this mono-focus come to be?

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

Is there a different Coggins report that hasn't been released to the public? I've read the report and it certainly didn't characterize the initial report in the manner you describe. 

Obummer
Obummer

Yo ah knowz ah would fly down dere an' fix dis here if ah didn't gots ta spend so darned much tyme creating my Obummercare-complaints website.

tb00
tb00

Coggins' report didn't say Miles could be fired for releasing to the public a letter that was already a public document. The report actually said a bunch of evidence, including statements to Jon Dahlander, suggested that Miles helped write the letter, which trashed various board members. He then arranged for the letter to be sent to you, with the expectation that you'd use it as vehicle to trash the board too. If that's what happened, Miles wasn't meeting his contract requirement to maintain a good relationship with the board. Maybe that's an asinine requirement. Maybe no one could maintain a good relationship with that board. But Coggins report didn't say what you claim.

bbetzen
bbetzen

Jim, the logic driving your series of articles defending Mike Miles can be summed up with the same logic you followed when questioning why the “1 percenters would give a crap about big urban public school systems.

If you do not understand that, you do not understand what is happening in DISD.When DISD continues to improve, and suddenly is doing more and more of what it is supposed to be doing, who is going to be losing power?  As more and more students are prepared for college, and are thinking critically, and able to debate issues faced in our city, state, and nation, who is going to be losing power?  As we have more and more voters who are actually voting and less capable of being manipulated by political sound bites in the media, who is going to lose power?

Do you have an idea Jim?  Who will lose power as the poor in Dallas better understand the power of democracy and the vote?  Who would love to stop the progress that was happening from 2005 to 2012 in Dallas ISD? 

It is no accident that the following wording was placed into the GOP Party Platform in Texas: “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

A big footnote is needed here: not all the wealthiest are in that camp.  Some of the wealthiest authentically want our students to excel and become critical thinkers! Notice the different sides that are being taken.

As Mike Miles is being exposed, have you noticed how quiet some people are becoming?

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

Jim: Common sense and facts are not allowed in any discussion of DISD.  Therefore, expect YOUR character to be next on the assassination hit-list.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

Jim, please make a call and ask how many teachers have been hired to full time positions to off-set the 700+ that left for early retirement.  Its a good simple question, requires a bit of discovery, but why haven't ya'll explored this? 

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

Damn Jim, thats one massive Mike Miles column for 7am. Did you stay up all night writing it?

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@bmarvel Another way to look at it, BM.  The Board, for all their displayed ignorance and insanity, is politically savvy.  They've managed to hold on to their seats, for the most part, for quite some time.  The board members who called for the investigation of Miles, by an internal investigator, an employee of Miles, had to know that this would be the eventual outcome.  If one ascribes the illest of intentions to the Board (which is easy to do, even if not always the truth), it isn't hard for one to come to the conclusion that the Board saw an easy opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: They get a justifiable, publishable and very public reason to move OPR out from under the administration umbrella (which it never should have been under in the first place); and they get more tar to smear on Miles.  As Hulk says, Miles was put in an untenable situation when the Board charged one of his own subordinates to investigate him.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bmarvel 

Bill, it's like this.  Sgt. Schutze goes into Police Chief Marvel's office and says, "Chief, I been hearin' a lotta shit about you. A lotta people don't like you in this department. I'm going to have to investigate you." Chief Marvel says, "Sgt. Schutze, go back to your desk, you crazy fuck, and don't bother me with this again." So Sgt. Schutze runs to the Morning News and says, "The chief is suppressing my freedom to investigate."  You know what the key to this is, right, Bill? Sgt. Schutze doesn't have any fucking freedom to investigate. He works for the chief. He investigates what the chief tells him to investigate, and he doesn't investigate what the chief tells him not to investigate. If the board doesn't like what's getting investigated, they need to fire the chief.  Tell you what, Bill: if you have another way for it to work, just draw me a flow chart, will you? Black and white, no dotted lines, no pastels.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@bmarvel

Unless I'm reading it wrong or something is going unsaid, here, wasn't it the other way around? 

The board charged Smith with "investigating" Miles, his superior, which is how this whole ungainly situation got started. This automatically puts Miles in an untenable position. This situation, to the casual observer, looks like Miles is the bad guy trying to cover his own ass when there is really a lot more going on. 


observist
observist

@IgnatiusJ  Either they act like adults or they go to Chili's, but they can't do both at the same time.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

@bruce.levy1 There's a disturbing tendency by the Broad types (and to his credit, Miles has some ideas not from the so-called reform group) to say that if you are against them, you are against reform. It's not so, but our school board sure gives that position credibility when it shouldn't have any.

EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

@James080 The transfer of OPR is something that has been discussed since Hinojosa created the department. Miles' interference with the investigation and refusal to explain his actions prompted the Board to finally make the move. 

leftocenter
leftocenter

@wcvemail It's all about making grand gestures to create the impression that if they just get the top miracle worker in, the schools will turn around, everyone will graduate college-ready, and poverty will end itself.  Bringing in a heavy hitter as a sup is a hail Mary, and pre-wired to be unable to meeting those high expectations, leading to failure, and ultimately to a return to the status quo.

but they can say look how hard we tried to break this cycle...

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@wcvemail 

Excellent point. I think the focus on superintendents is semi-strategic, probably very strategic at a national level, as a means to avoid the bad optics of being pro-patronage anti-merit, which what this is really all about.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@tb00 

Except that there was no evidence whatsoever of Miles helping to draft the letter. no evidence whatsoever that he gave me the letter and every evidence that the letter was a sincere expression of feeling by the man who wrote it and later vigorously defended it. Otherwise, you have a great case.

observist
observist

@bbetzen  Which do you think is more likely:

 Scenario 1:  A cadre of ultra-wealthy string-pullers are actively trying to keep the population dumb and docile so they can maintain their power, and the teachers' union is nobly fighting these forces of ignorance by constantly striving to give our children the absolute best education possible.

Scenario 2: American public education has been falling behind for 30 years, different people have different ideas of how to improve it, and the teachers' union does what all unions do - fight for the rights, wages, working conditions and job security of its members - goals which are only partially aligned with the goal of providing our children the absolute best education possible.


bbetzen
bbetzen

Except for Jim Schutze that is. He is being paid to write.

bruce.levy1
bruce.levy1

@Cliffhanger @bruce.levy1 Agreed.  And Schutze has built a reputation in my mind for being the go-to guy on so many issues if you really want to know what's going on in this town. And the DMN seems to be hedging its bets on Miles in curious ways.  But, I do think there are times when Schutze's binaries of Good v. Evil, Virtuous v. Corrupt, etc. leads him to gloss over really important, legitimate issues.  I don't think for a moment that all DISD teachers are enlightened educators.  But, the fact is that many are.  And many have serious professional pedagogical concerns about the policies that Miles has imposed and continues to impose.  That's the real debate here:  Which pedagogy works the best to educate our children.  Metrics can be made to seem that real learning and thinking is going on.  I am not at all convinced that Miles is an educator is really is very thoughtful about pedagogy.  I have NEVER heard him say anything to lead me to believe he is all that conversant in the subject. This is troubling to me.

James080
James080 topcommenter

@EastDallasDad @James080  

You can dress up the facts how ever you like. Miles pulled an item off of a meeting agenda, which he had a legal right to do, and on that basis a disgruntled and (in my opinion) incompetent employee filed a bogus complaint with OPR.

Smith parlayed his investigation into a promotion of sorts, as his office now answers to the Board.

OPR will now be a political tool, under the authority of politicians. Trustees can now pick the winners and losers, designate targets and issue free passes. It's a powerful tool to wield, and the Board's issues with Miles are all about power.

 

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@JimSX @wcvemail On the other hand, such intense and drawn out focus on a Superintendent's actions or misbehaviors deflects the same intense and drawn out focus from being put on the gravy train of school district service and construction contracts.

In other words, by constantly praising or castigating Miles for his attempted reforms (where he thinks the money should be directed), the Board is shifting focus away from their cronies who are getting fat on District contracts.

tb00
tb00

@JimSX 
"No evidence," huh?

What about Jon Dahlander's confirmation that Miles talked about a plan to assist Smelker in drafting a resignation letter that cast the Board in a negative light, with the goal of releasing the letter to the media, hoping it would generate positive publicity for Miles and negative publicity for the Board?

What about Miles' confirmation that he reviewed the various drafts of the letter and made suggestions about its tone, how specific it was, and "how they could transmit the letter to the press"? 

What about the fact that on June 24, LeMaster and Miles talked on the phone for half an hour; then two hours later, LeMaster mailed her redraft of Smelker's letter to Miles and Smelker; then LeMaster and Miles had two more brief phone conversations the same evening? Maybe they were discussing what a fine fellow Schutze is. I mean, who hasn't had that conversation? But I think it's more likely they were cooperating in drafting a letter that pooped on the Board.

All of this is in Coggins' report: http://www.scribd.com/doc/166189695/Investigation-into-Dallas-ISD-Superintendent-Mike-Miles

I don't doubt that the letter expressed Smelker's sincere feelings. But the question was whether Miles helped prepare a letter that trashed the Board, which violated his contractual obligation to maintain a good relationship with Board. There's plenty of evidence that indicates he did.

I'll admit it's less clear he sent a copy to you. If you say he didn't, and he didn't arrange for someone else (Smelker, for instance) to supply it to you, I stand corrected, and I apologize. Is that what you're saying? Or are you just saying the evidence is leaner on that point, not that it didn't happen?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@observist @bbetzen 

The great lie here is that Bill's side is the one that wants to make kids smarter. BIll's side wants to defend seniority pay and protect bad teachers.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@bruce.levy1 @Cliffhanger" I am not at all convinced that Miles is an educator is really is very thoughtful about pedagogy.  I have NEVER heard him say anything to lead me to believe he is all that conversant in the subject." 

While I can figure what you are trying to say, the irony in your second statement is worth bringing up.

observist
observist

@James080 @EastDallasDad   No matter the players involved, you can't have someone investigate their own boss for misbehavior and continue to report to them.  Either OPR reports to the board, or OPR reports to the Super, and the board has to hire a 3rd party to investigate the Super.  It was an utterly ridiculous to expect Miles to review the guy who had just investigated him. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@James080 @EastDallasDad 

If you look closely at the crap innuendo and rumor that found its way into the OPR/Miles report, to say nothing of the political origins of the investigation itself, any DISD employee would be nuts ever to sit down with OPR without a lawyer at his or her side. In fact any future superintendent should insist on a  contract provision providing that a superintendent must have a lawyer at his side before he talks to OPR and the district must pay the lawyer.

tb00
tb00

@JimSX

Really? I guess so, if you're Humpty-Dumpty and the word "evidence" means exactly what you intend it to mean.

bbetzen
bbetzen

@JimSX @observist @bbetzen Jim, have you ever been in a dispute between two groups and you honestly agreed 100% with everything those on the side you support did?

Me neither!  I strongly believe there is a place for pay based on performance and that teachers who never have evidence of learning in their students must be fired.   The Mike Miles debate is about many other issues that are much more damaging.  Would you want to answer the 10 questions that Miguel Solis has not yet answered this past week?  What does it say that he does not want to publicly respond to these issues: http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2013/10/supporting-kristi-lara-questions-for.html

observist
observist

@JimSX @bbetzen *self-contradiction.  Not really sure what self-contraction would look like.  Maybe  "s'lf"

observist
observist

@JimSX @observist @bbetzen  Well, I suppose you can say it directly in 2 sentences, as opposed to my long-winded, thinly-veiled invitation to self-contraction, but where's the sport?

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