Can We Pump the Brakes Before We Send Yet Another Dallas ISD Superintendent Packing?

In terms of the way we treat school superintendents in Dallas, we're kind of like the spoiled rich lady who fires her housekeepers one after another, then asks, "What on earth is wrong with the housekeepers of this world?"

I can't even count how many times in the last month I have heard somebody say, "The problem with the school system is that every single superintendent we hire around here turns out to be no good." Yeah. That's a problem. But are we sure it's a problem with the schools system?

Hey, let me put my hand up and nominate myself as a part of the problem. In the late 1990s I practically made my mortgage payments with stories about prison-bound and/or wacko Dallas superintendents. I confess to a certain disappointment when one of them, Mike Moses, came to town in 2001 and failed to exhibit any obvious or outward signs of dementia, alcoholism or sex addiction. He didn't even wear weird clothes.

See also:
Mike Miles versus The World

There comes a point, however, when the community has to take a long pause, look hard into the mirror, and ask, "What if it's us?" What are the odds, after all, that every single school superintendent who shows up here winds up sporting some kind of enormous mental, moral or criminal defect of character? What if we're the ones with the defect?

The drumbeat is picking up right now on Mike Miles, our current super. It turns out he's got a guy on staff -- or had one until the guy resigned yesterday -- who expects to be indicted in an FBI corruption probe in Atlanta where he used to work. Board member Lew Blackburn is talking to the daily paper about too many high-level departures, executive sessions, curtailing Miles' authority to hire his own staff, slapping him down, in other words so maybe he'll leave.

Sure. Wait. Remember. Blackburn is part of the caucus on the school board who want to kick Miles' ass over school reform and the fact that he just fired a couple of politically wired school principals. Listen. I'm not taking sides on that at the moment. Just remember who's talking.

Some of the other recent departures appear to be part of the same thing: school reform. Miles said from the beginning he was going to do some house-cleaning in order to reform the schools. So he's house-cleaning. Unless you're a crazy wacked-out rich lady yourself, you don't fire the cleaning lady because she's cleaning.

Miles' chief financial officer quit last month after only a few months on the job to return to a former employer. The anti-Miles claque is rolling that one up in the same ball of wax with everybody else who has left. They want to show that Miles can't hold on to his staff. OK, if we're going to use that one against him, let's be sure to go back and take it apart first to see what really happened.

For example, a persistent story I am hearing about that departure is that a major factor in that guy's decision to bail was the school board, not the superintendent. Think about it. He's the top money guy. What would give the top money guy the serious heebie-jeebies worse than the realization that school trustees intend to call him night and day and lean on him to do funky stuff with the money?

Before we add that departure to Miles' list of character flaws, I for one would like to see a serious public attempt to investigate what really happened. That one is interesting. It's the money. I'm sort of glad Blackburn and the others may want to put that one back on the stove. Good. Let's cook.

Everybody also goes back to the departure last January of Jennifer Sprague, the media-spinner whom Miles brought with him from Colorado. The story was that he paid her way too much money. The head-shots used for the stories about her salary were glamour shots from a few years back that made her look like a sorority pledge. By the time she quit, more recent pictures depicted a professional woman with family.

I think I may have written something at the time about Miles riding out of town on a rail. Remember: This was the same period when Miles was hit with an audit painting him as an out-of-control nutcase crook. When I first heard about that audit, I thought, "Well, thank goodness, finally things are getting back to normal."

The audit was leaked to The Dallas Morning News before it was even complete. Miles said he thought it was a witch hunt. I thought he was toast at that point, because what kind of CEO whines about a bad audit and calls it a witch hunt?

Then I got my hands on the audit. OMG! It was a witch hunt!

In fact, as sort of a connoisseur of witch hunts myself, I read it and thought, "This is even a crappy witch hunt." It seemed to me somebody needed to take that witch's broom away from her.

I'm not saying Miles should be considered immune in any way from criticism, review, skepticism, oversight, any of it. And look, I've already told you, if the guy steps in front of the cameras next week with one hand in his coat and a Napoleon hat, I'm a happy man. In some ways. Not so happy where the city, the schools, the children and the future of humankind are concerned, but a really good wacko school superintendent story is worth a couple bucks to me, and sometimes you can't have it all.

People want to roll all of this up in one ball so they can get rid of the dude because they are pissed off at him for firing their friends. Just keep that in mind. I'm not saying it's wrong to look at this stuff, but make them unroll it. Unroll the ball of wax. Let's look at this thoughtfully, one instance at a time. Pay attention to everybody's agenda. Make every single card player put his and her hands up on top of the table.

The rich lady wonders why the gods on high refuse to send her a good housekeeper. Fair question. But maybe the answer is that the gods don't like her. Talk about a whole new ball of wax.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze