You know the debate over public schools in Dallas has gone squirrely when retired teacher and education activist advocate Bill Betzen stands before the City Council and offers implicit approval of Mike Miles' tenure as DISD superintendent.
Betzen, speaking in advance of a council discussion on the home-rule proposal for DISD, stopped well short of endorsing Miles, but he argued that the district is moving in the right direction -- graduation rates have risen for five consecutive years now -- and can continue to do so without fundamentally changing the district's structure.
The man who followed Betzen at the microphone, an East Dallas resident named David Lee, agreed.
"I don't always agree with Superintendent Miles, but we both agree that governance changes are not required" to enact reforms.
This seems as good a time as any to float a conspiracy theory we've been chewing on: What if this whole home-rule debate, with its shadowy rich donors, its embarrassingly ham-fisted rollout, its inchoate and eminently demonizable goals, was cooked up just to take the heat off Miles?
Think about it. When was the last time you read about Miles screwing up? Probably back when he narrowly escaped with his neck following the Coggins report.
Since then, crickets. Even DISD Blog, the repository of anonymous district insiders' anti-Miles jeremiads, hasn't published an article critical of Miles since February 20, and that was a half-hearted attempt to blame him for a child-molesting teacher at Marsh Middle School. Even the performance-pay initiative Miles will be rolling out in the months to come has been subsumed by the furor over home rule.
Could be that this is just a new superintendent finally finding his footing, but the Miles we know and love to hate can't go six weeks, much less six months, without stepping in something that's deep enough for critics to make a fuss over. Isn't the much simpler explanation that Miles and his allies crafted a plan to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a signature-gathering campaign, bring Mayor Mike Rawlings to the verge of tears and allow several important rich people to be portrayed as incompetent wannabe oligarchs all in the interest of diverting attention away from his controversial tenure?
The answer, of course, is that no, that would be stupid, But intentional or not, the effect has been the same. Miles need only tell The Dallas Morning News that he's opposed to home-rule and he becomes maybe not a good guy but at least not an active threat. For Miles, that counts as progress.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.