Now DISD Investigators Are Calling Out District Employees for "Criticizing" Subordinates

Last night, WFAA's Brett Shipp released the latest in what's becoming a series of investigative pieces on the administration of Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles.

"For the third time in less that two months, a DISD internal investigation has uncovered alleged wrongdoing by a top district administrator," the report begins. It goes on to explain that the district's Office of Professional Responsibility, a kind of internal affairs department charged with sniffing out misconduct by district employees and officials, had finished a damning report on chief financial officer James Terry concluding that he'd violated district policy.

It all sounds terribly serious. The revelation that yet another top administrator is in trouble seems to feed into the by now well-established narrative that Miles just doesn't have what it takes to run a large urban school district. But then you take a look at what the report apparently says.

Here's Shipp's synopsis:

James Terry has been with DISD since 2011. Miles appointed him to his cabinet last year. On July 19, internal investigators with the Office of Professional Responsibility, known as OPR, determined that Terry "made remarks that were critical of the competence of the Campus Activity Funds Manager ... in violation of District Policy."

Investigators found that "James Terry used language qualifying as bullying and harassing ... and violated Standards of Conduct." Investigators also determined "Terry continued to use the discriminatory name after being asked not to do so."

Shipp didn't post the report itself, and the district hasn't released it, so we're not sure what "discriminatory name" Terry used. As for the part about Terry making "remarks that were critical of the competence" of an employee, that's sort of what bosses are supposed to do.

At first glance, it looks like Shipp is doing the TV-reporter thing and blowing something small into something big and attention-grabbing. He's doing that, of course, but not egregiously -- nothing on the order of investigative teammate Byron Harris' report that bedbugs are "on the rise in North Texas." An official investigation that sniffs out misdeeds by a top DISD administrator is newsworthy.

The question you're left with is this: Should the OPR really be expending time and resources investigating this crap?

OPR's answer is a definite yes. The other investigations Shipp refers to in his lede -- one on former Chief of Staff Jerome Oberlton, the other on Miles himself -- each found evidence of "bullying." In each case, this conclusion is based almost exclusively on the testimony of the employee being bullied. In each case, that employee is former communications chief Rebecca Robriguez. (See Jim's piece here for a more thorough dismantling of the Miles report.)

Clearly there needs to be some better process for deciding what gets investigated. Same for adjudicating the he-said-she-said cases the OPR is so fond of. That at least seems to be what DISD Board President Eric Cowan is thinking.

"After this main investigation [into allegations that Miles improperly influenced the bidding process] is over with," he told Shipp, "we are going to be looking at policies and procedures and just what the purpose of OPR is and how we conduct investigations on employees, especially when it's one employee against another."

As it stands, the office is causing more trouble than it's rooting out.

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