Incoming DISD superintendent Mike Miles called Saturday's sit-down with the board a retreat, but that's probably a misnomer. The meeting was long and took place on a weekend, and there was a platter full of bacon, but Miles didn't give an inch.
In a Q&A session with media beforehand, Miles fielded question from the handful of reporters who had managed to straggle into the DISD administration building by 7:30 on a Saturday morning. Things kicked off with a softball about the recently released results from the STAAR exam, which were underwhelming. Miles said he has glanced at the data but not enough to form a definitive opinion.
The preliminaries out of the way, the line of inquiry pivoted, immediately and permanently, to the eye-popping salaries of Miles' four named cabinet members, in particular the $185,000 being raked in by Jennifer Sprague, the communications chief he's importing from Colorado Springs.
The questions went something like this: Really? $185,000 for a PR flack? How do you justify paying a 31-year-old naif more than the White House press secretary, not to mention the communications chiefs of pretty much every major school district nationwide? Isn't that a slap in the face to the rank-and-file teacher who has seen his pay stagnate and the parent whose kid's school DISD just closed to save money?
Miles basically reiterated what he had previously told the Dallas Morning News: Sprague is worth the money. She's a phenomenal talent with shelves full of national and state communications awards, and she'll be doing more than simply spitting out press releases. In Colorado Springs, for example, her efforts quadrupled parent involvement in the schools, and she successfully implemented a campaign that got more kids into the classroom on time, reading every day at home, and doing their homework.
Same with the other cabinet members. Incoming operations chief Kevin Smelker will find millions in savings for the district next year, money that will go to improve quality of instruction and student achievement. And if you have people who can do that, should you really quibble with a six-figure salary?
"We've got to stop being penny wise and pound foolish," Miles said.
But then, as if the stream of urine Miles was sending into the hornet's nest was not forceful enough, Miles blamed the media for sensationalizing the story.
"If Jennifer Sprague was an ugly, slightly older male," Miles asked, would there even be any controversy?
"I think the answer to that question is no."
Actually, it's not. You just more than doubled the salary of a person you imported from your old job in a climate of austerity. That person now makes more than the city's police chief. To do PR. That's a story, and an utterly fair one. Of course, Miles is right on one point: There wouldn't be the Bobby Petrino whispers if Sprague was a fat old dude. (For the record, Miles said he is not friends with Sprague or Smelker. "I've never had coffee with either of them.")
All that said, it's not much of a surprise that Miles came out with rhetorical guns blazing. Had he walked back his first major move as superintendent in response to a bit of public criticism, what happens when he starts canning teachers?