Last Night's Vote in Dallas ISD Was a Win for Mike Miles and a Loss for John Wiley Price

Look, life is not football. It's more important. I do get that. But, sorry. At a certain point in last night's Dallas ISD board meeting, a big scoreboard flashed in my mind. MIKE MILES, 7. JOHN WILEY PRICE, 0.

Very, very superficial of me, I know. But, hey, I am not the one who set it up this way. Last night, when an overwhelming majority of the Dallas school board voted to support Miles' program of reform through replacement of principals, the obvious score was inescapable.

See also: Mike Miles' vs. the World

A month ago Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price not only called for Miles to be ousted as Dallas superintendent of schools, he urged that Miles be locked out of local churches. Price, always described as the county's most powerful black politician, sent a letter to Dallas pastors more or less telling them he wouldn't be satisfied until Miles was banished not merely from the school district but also from the Christian religion. As pre-game challenges go, that's a high bar.

Only two trustees voted against Miles last night -- Carla Ranger and Bernadette Nutall, both of whom represent the city's southern sector. They only voted on the principal thing, not the Christianity. But I figure a loss for Price on one is a goose egg on both. If they're not going to block Miles from firing his own principals, they're not going to kick him out of his religion. (Is Miles even a Christian? Do I have to ask him next time I see him? Sometimes I hate this job.)

The issue as finally voted on was weird enough. Billed by critics in the month beforehand as a mass slaughter of loyal school principals, it wound up being a mainly procedural question of only two principals, neither of whom was named last night. The Dallas Morning News names them in a story today, but I'm not sure they're right. District spokesperson Jon Dahlander told me in an email: "I absolutely will not confirm the names of principals or their schools." So that's absolute. But we do know from last night's debate that it was only two.

Apparently dozens more principals targeted for replacement settled their differences with the district before last night's meeting, some retiring, some accepting transfers. The question concerning the two who didn't settle beforehand was odd, as it finally came to the table.

Trustee Dan Micciche, who represents northeast Dallas/Lake Highlands, evinced from board lawyers that a board vote to support management on the dismissals would give the fired principals a legal right to come back to a special panel of the board with an appeal. Only at that point would the board really know any of the issues in a specific case.

"If we don't approve the list," he said, "then we are in a situation where the evidence in favor of the employees will not be presented to us. We have to go on to the hearing in order to have the evidence."

So, in an odd way, the people calling for the board to vote against management on the firing list were calling for the system of due process to be cut short. That way no one would ever hear the evidence. One reason that seems fishy is the insistent rumor out there, some of it from good sources, that some of the original full list of firings had to do not with academic issues but with investigations into corrupt practices.

Ranger, who represents far southwest Dallas near suburban Duncanville, wanted the board to vote on each principal separately. Elizabeth Jones, who is from Far-Nosebleed North Dallas, suggested diplomatically that she thought voting to fire or keep specific individuals, blind and without any information, was wacko.

"Trustee Ranger, with all due respect, to try to second guess something where I haven't even seen a fraction of the evidence, because what's presented to us at this stage is very limited, troubles me," Jones said.

She said: "Fairness is a critical part of the decision that we always must make, but we can't do that by interjecting opinions or even a half a story about anything, and I think as the board goes, we should respect that part of the process."

Some of the public speeches were moving and kind of painful if you knew the players. Calling for a moratorium on firings was African-American community activist and former regional transportation agency board member Joyce Foreman, who was, as always, forceful, persuasive, penetrating.

But just as forceful and persuasive on the other side, in favor of the firings and in support of Miles, was Latina activist and former regional LULAC director Beatrice Martinez. She complained of school principals who were "arrogant and incompetent" and of "previous area superintendents who created firewalls of defense for them.

"Parents had no place to go. It is for this reason, unusual for me, I am here to support Mike Miles plan to hold campus leaders accountable."

The two views reflect a larger cultural tension between black people and Hispanics looming over the entire school debate but seldom addressed explicitly in public. Last night's speeches by the two women were especially poignant for me because I happen to know they are personal friends and longtime allies.

Some of this stuff ain't easy.

On the other hand, some is. Juanita Wallace, president of the Dallas branch of the NAACP, gave voice to a point of view we all need to know about: "A hundred and forty-eight years after slavery, and we are still trying to convince some of you people that we are free," she said.

Wallace painted a picture - not uncommon in black southern Dallas - in which Miles, who happens to be black, is actually the agent of a secret conspiracy to enslave minorities: "Mike Miles has found some billionaire donors," she said, "and they call the shots. The money calls the shots.

"The same people I am talking about send their children to private schools, and they could care less about the blacks and browns here in this district. The long-range plans are to send the blacks and browns to prison (as) free labor, mis-educate the girls and build psychological slave ships on the ground for the rest of us."

Wallace is more or less in the same camp with Commissioner Price, trying to protect every job, especially his own, with a call for revolution. The trouble with that, as we saw last night, is that people don't want to go to the bother of a whole revolution - you have to live outdoors and maybe get killed and stuff -- just for one job. Or even two jobs. It's a scaling issue.

The bitter joke last night, I thought, came after the vote on the two principals. A second vote was on several hundred other district employees, mainly teachers, who are being let go for various reasons but who lack the political wiring of the two fired principals. The union reps spoke up for them, but nary a word was said in their defense by the so-called community activists. Zip. Silence. Out the window. See you, wouldn't want to be you.

Meanwhile, I'm just sitting there when it's all over, being my own superficial self. My man Price set the challenge. He needs to do some serious worrying about his stroke after last night's match-up. That's what I see on the board.

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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