It was raucous, and that won’t be the last time.
New Superintendent Mike Miles’ interim contract was approved Thursday in a lively inaugural meeting of HISD’s new Board of Managers, over the objections of at least 150 students, parents, teachers and civil rights groups who protested Miles’ appointment.
Miles will be paid $25,000 for relocation expenses and receive $1,473 for each day he works under the interim contract, which was prorated to align with former Superintendent Millard House II’s annual salary of $360,000, according to a spokesman for Miles. Miles will be paid identically to House once the interim contract is replaced with a long-term agreement in about two weeks, he said.
The ratification of Miles’ contract, along with the approval of other items on the meeting agenda, could barely be heard over the clamor from the audience, which remained consistent throughout the nearly 90-minute meeting.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves!” one audience member yelled, as the rest of the crowd broke out in chants of “no justice, no peace.”
Miles was tardy to Thursday’s meeting, only joining for the agenda item in which his contract would be ratified, but said he watched the majority of the public comment over the live stream. He said he was proud of how the Board of Managers — who remained silent as speakers approached the podium one by one, calling them “puppets” and pleading with them not to reject Miles’ appointment — handled the heightened tensions of their first meeting.
“They’re volunteers who stepped up to serve the public interest, they serve HISD’s kids,” Miles said. “So to see them act so calm and professional under that sort of pressure just made me proud.”
Miles said he only joined for the end of Thursday’s meeting because it was the first time the board “would face questions or input from the community and we wanted the focus to be on them.” Many community members shouted “Where’s Mike Miles?” throughout the meeting.
Aside from ratifying Miles’ contract, Thursday’s meeting focused on procedural items such as electing board officers. Audrey Momanaee, a trial attorney, was named board president, and Ric Campo, a prominent Houston businessman, was selected as vice president. Angela Flowers, a teacher, will serve as secretary.
The board approved a motion to suspend regular meeting requirements (a spokesman for Miles said that is so that the board can meet several more times in June and then waive July’s meeting, before returning to a monthly meeting schedule). They also approved a $3 million in-kind donation from Good Reason Houston, which covers “some consultant support as well as services provided by our staff,” according to the education non-profit. Good Reason Houston is paying for consultants from the Kitamba firm, which has been criticized for its business-minded approach to school reform.
Inside and outside of the board room, protestors focused their ire on Miles’ plans to make major changes at nearly 30 campuses, where all educators will be required to reapply for their jobs this summer. Some parents and union members showed their opposition to Miles’ emphasis on standardized testing, while others criticized the undemocratic nature of the takeover itself.
Miles’ approach to the 28 schools would “humiliate” teachers, said Jonathan Bryant, a teacher at HISD’s Northside High School. He warned that teacher turnover would rise in Houston, just as it did during Miles’ tenure leading Dallas about a decade ago. State records show Dallas’ teacher turnover rate increased by about 5 percentage points under Miles.
About 25 attendees signed up for public comment and were given two minutes each to voice their opinions. One by one, they argued against the state takeover, warning that the appointed trustees are not accountable to voters and not representative of their communities.
Elizabeth Rodriguez, 18, a recent Northside High School graduate, said the new board does not represent her. She worries what the changes will mean for her family members still attending HISD schools.
“Don’t listen to what (Miles) has to say – the big man. Listen to the community,” Rodriguez said. “Don’t think about just money. Think about all the children that y’all are supposed to be taking care of.”
Parents also expressed frustration at a lack of support from the state during the pre-meeting protest.
“Instead of supporting principals and teachers to be successful, the state has never set our community up for success,” said Kourtney Revels, the parent of a third-grader at Elmore Elementary School on the city’s northeast side, which is set to undergo a dramatic overhaul under Miles’ plans. “When is someone going to step in for real and step in for my community?”
Several HISD students also spoke, expressing anger about the intervention and fear for the future. Eileen Reyes, a rising sophomore at Westbury High School, warned the takeover would “backfire.”
Several local political leaders and statewide advocates, as well as two elected HISD trustees, attended the protest.
Oni Blair, the ACLU of Texas’ executive director and an HISD parent, said her organization would call for a federal intervention to ensure Houston voters were represented. Multiple elected officials and teachers union leaders have threatened to take legal action related to the takeover, though none have seriously followed through.
“We are losing the power of our vote in multiple ways,” Blair said.
I don’t have a whole lot to add at this point, since the Board approved Miles’ contract and their leadership and did one or two other things before adjourning. The main action was the protest, and you’re either on Team We Need To Move Past This And Give Miles And The Board A Chance or Team We Have No Other Voice What Else Would You Have Us Do. The Chron Editorial Board, who are firmly on Team Give Them A Chance, was not impressed by the actual meeting.
But even with the lights on, the proceedings needed more illumination. It was hard to tell what was going on. Attendees’ shouting made it hard to hear what board members said or to tell how they voted. Tactically, the shouting seemed a bad plan: If we the public want to know what business the state-appointed board of managers is up to, it helps to hear them do it.
But the HISD board of managers also bears responsibility for Thursday’s murk. Shouldn’t they have been prepared to at least attempt to build trust? Superintendent Mike Miles, who also was appointed by the state, has experienced raucous opposition before. Rather than go into the meeting with a standard bare-bones agenda and format, Miles and the board of managers could have set a constructive tone by clearly introducing his sweeping changes and responding to questions early on.
We have urged readers to give Miles and the board a chance, but they must do their part by managing meetings the way an effective teacher manages a classroom.
Public comments from parents, community members and teachers urged the board to reject Miles’ contract and not to mess with previous board policies. Some speakers had traveled all the way from Dallas to tell about their negative experiences during his time as superintendent there. Some speakers urged the board to wield their power to push back, and not just rubber stamp whatever comes their way. Others complained that the board didn’t represent the schools most affected. “Puppets! Puppets!” some yelled.
Other speakers made efficient use of the new superintendent’s full name, F. Mike Miles, by pronouncing his first initial as a verb. Miles himself didn’t appear until the board voted on his contract. As he took his seat beside the board president, he looked as unruffled as ever.
When it came time for the board to move through the agenda items, it was as if someone gave the room’s volume dial a good twist. The shouts and occasional chants of “TEA go away” and “No justice, no peace” were so loud that few could make out what was happening.
Was Audrey Momanaee just elected board president? Did they just approve a motion to alter the meeting schedule? Was there any discussion at all?
Usually in public meetings, votes are recorded in a public way — shown on a screen, say, or indicated with colored lights — so everyone can see who votes yes, no or abstains. But not here, not this evening.
Miles and the new board of managers have all said they want to earn the community’s trust. Miles even met with this editorial board and shared a vision that he elaborated on in other interviews. We appreciated that moment of engagement and transparency.
But is that all it was? A moment?
Good governance is one of the things the district must do to end the takeover. What we saw last night was timid governance. With the superintendent’s contract, a change to the board meeting schedule and a $3 million donation from Good Reason Houston on the agenda, we would’ve expected some questions, concerns, clarifications for the board’s sake — and for the public’s. Instead, the board moved quickly through the motions of approving each agenda item.
Maybe they’ll learn from this and do better next time. And maybe, on the other side, it might be better tactics to turn the volume down when actual Board stuff is happening. But it’s on the Board to make their case that they’re listening and doing something about it. The Press has more.