Five Questions for Mike Miles, DISD Superintendent (and Former Senate) Candidate

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Yesterday, Mike Miles, an Army Ranger turned education reformer, was named the lone finalist for Dallas Independent School District's superintendent job. Today begins 21 days of tire-kicking, a mandatory waiting and vetting period before the district and Miles can officially wed.

Plenty of people will do all that kicking, including us and, I suspect, you. Here are five questions we have right out of the gate; chime in with your own and we'll try to look into those, too.

1. What Are Your Political Aspirations? As he spoke yesterday, I thought: Dang, this guy's smooth. And now we know: He has practice.

Miles, a Democrat, ran for Colorado's seat in the U.S. Senate in 2004 and apparently shook up the party with a good showing at a convention. (Slogan: "Be the change." Has a ring, doesn't it?) His campaign fizzled, and soon he was applying for superintendent jobs. "I'm not going to run for anything in the near future," Miles told the Denver Post in 2005.

Then came another election season.

In 2008, Ken Salazar bolted the Senate for a Barack Obama cabinet post, and Colorado Governor Bill Ritter needed to appoint a replacement. Miles, just a couple of years into his superintendent job at Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs, promptly put his name in the hat again. He even had one major newspaper urging the governor to appoint him, comparing Miles to Obama. Ritter went in a different direction, though, and Miles wound up sticking in education.

"We definitely talked about that," Trustee Mike Morath told me yesterday. "But he's spent 17 years in education." Morath also noted that during the interview process, Miles pledged seven years to the district, regardless of the length of his contract.

2. How Exactly Will Pay-for-Performance Work? During his press conference, Miles touted his current district's pay-for-performance program, which he called the nation's most innovative. Tying teacher and principal pay to student achievement is a controversial trend that's popular with reformers, and Miles is an unabashed supporter who will surely try to implement such a system full-scale in DISD. He should find support on the board, if not with all the rank-and-file.

"He has teachers who are making $90,000 a year," Morath said, noting that Colorado teachers make less, on average, than Texas teachers do. "We're going to have teachers making six figures in Dallas, which is a remarkable boon to the profession."

3. Will My Kid's School Become a Charter School? Right there with pay-for-performance among Things Reformers Like are charter schools, publicly funded but (usually) privately operated schools that operate free of many of the restrictions of education law. School districts across the country are experimenting with turning over schools to charter operators like Uplift Education, which just formed a partnership with Dallas City Hall, where Mayor Mike Rawlings has pledged a deeper involvement with DISD, partly through a Dallas Regional Chamber-backed political committee, which is surely fond of charter schools.

You can see where this is going, then -- especially when you consider that in Miles' current district, four of the 25 schools are charter schools.

4. How Will You Balance Teacher Quality with Teacher Morale? Even without a permanent superintendent, the DISD board has begun weeding out what it believes to be its poorest performing teachers, firing five times as many teachers for performance issues this year than it did last. Miles did the same in his current district, according to the Gazette -- which may explain why, within minutes of him being named DISD's pick, teachers took to the comments to gripe about Miles' reforms.

Back in Colorado Springs, students also claimed his reforms were driving down teacher morale:

5. So ... Um ... How Much Do We Have to Pay You? If the board puts pen to paper with Miles, whatever salary he earns will be met with some skepticism -- even if it's less than the $328,000 the district's last superintendent, Michael Hinojosa, pulled in. And Miles is already pretty well compensated: He made $194,614 at this time last year, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette -- an amount for which the paper says "board members have taken heat." He also runs a for-profit education consulting company, Focal Point, LLC, on the side.

Also interesting contract-wise will be what, if anything, the board does to structure his compensation to reward longevity. You know, in case the White House needs a new Education Secretary and Miles' itch comes back before those seven years are up.

Follow me and the Dallas Observer on Twitter. If you're a DISD teacher, employee or parent and want to talk about the school district, find me here.

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