Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday blasted Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles’ plan to close dozens of school libraries and turn them into discipline rooms, alleging it was targeted at “selected communities.”
In an impassioned speech at City Council, Turner said the library had given him a view of other worlds during his hardscrabble youth. Turner and council members alleged that the move to shutter libraries was an extension of the Texas Legislature’s book-banning policies.
“You cannot have a situation where you are closing libraries for some schools in certain neighborhoods and there are other neighborhoods where there are libraries, fully equipped. What the hell are you doing?” Turner said.
Turner’s comments represented his most pointed critique yet of Miles, who was appointed by the Texas Education Agency in June as part of its takeover of HISD.
In an email Wednesday morning, HISD officials said “we understand the significance of certain programs associated with libraries and will strive to maintain those valuable offerings.” Miles previously has defended his idea as a back-to-basics measure that prioritizes spending resources on teachers in some of the city’s highest-need schools.
As mayor, Turner has no direct power to influence policies at the independently-managed school district. However, he used his platform to urge the district’s state-appointed board of managers, many of whom are longtime civic figures in Houston, to reject the proposal.
“If you’re a board of manager, you cannot allow this to happen. If you represent the city in any way, and you are a board of manager, this cannot happen on our watch, because it does not reflect Houston’s values,” Turner said.
None of the nine HISD board members immediately responded to requests for comment.
Turner also invited Miles to City Hall, because, he said, “you are in Houston, you do not operate in a vacuum.”
See here for the background. I’d recommend that Miles take the Mayor up on his invitation. It would be good PR, you might come to some understanding, and at the very least you really don’t want the most powerful person in the city attacking you like this. Among many other things, he might have enough sway with the Board members to push them into not approving this part of the plan. This issue might also not go away with the end of Turner’s time as Mayor. A little investment in time and schmoozing now might save a bunch of headaches later.
But really, this goes back again to what I’ve been saying about Miles winning trust and getting buy-in. The difference in outcome is between a lasting program that does the things he says and carries on without him, and something that’s written in sand and gets wiped out the minute his ass is out the door. Which one does he want? I’m sure Mike Miles has mantras that he repeats about not being here to be loved, and sure, I get that. All I’m saying is that he doesn’t need to be a villain either, and he would be better off if he made more of an effort to not be one.
Mayor Sylvester Turner rejected an invitation from Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles to visit campuses Miles is overhauling, accusing the new schools chief Thursday of creating an “apartheid situation” in the district.
Turner said the “gimmick” invitation — released by HISD’s press office Wednesday afternoon after the Mayor blasted Miles’ plans to turn dozens of school libraries into discipline centers — wasn’t for him, but rather the media. Turner said he didn’t see the letter until media outlets began reporting on it.
“I’m not looking to be a photo op with the superintendent when he’s taking the district in the wrong direction,” Turner said Thursday. “If he really wanted to have a conversation, he knew how to pick up the phone, call me or find his way to City Hall and ask to meet with me.”
Sometimes, people who are in political positions or who want to be in political positions claim that they themselves are “not politicians”. Being a politician, or being seen as one, is often viewed negatively by many, for reasons both valid and disingenuous.
The thing is, most successful politicians get to where they are by having a good understanding of people – what they want, what motivates them, and so on. I can tell you, from observing politics and being acquainted with many politicians and people who work with them, any halfway decent politician would not have done what Mike Miles did here. It was at best ham-handed, at worst condescending and out of touch.
Miles should have done what Mayor Turner suggested and reached out to him, by phone or email, to have a conversation, maybe set up a personal meeting, any number of things to get them together and work through differences and find common ground. That’s good politics, but it’s also good basic human interaction. If you’re in a disagreement with someone, an email or call from you to them is much more likely to result in something positive than a public post on Facebook that invites them to come to an event you’re having for other purposes so you can show them why you’re right and they’re wrong. This is not complicated.
At this point, I wonder if Miles is being deliberately antagonistic because what does he care what the Mayor thinks, the Mayor has no power over him anyway, or if he’s just clueless on a turbocharged level and also has no one around him who knows any better. Maybe he just doesn’t have anyone around him to tell him that he’s acting like a fool. I am absolutely boggled by this.