More illusion than reality so far, it seems.
A cornerstone of Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles’ plans for overhauling the district — rapidly eliminating nearly 700 jobs in its “bloated” central office — appears to be exaggerated by the district’s new, polarizing leader.
A Houston Landing analysis of district payroll data shows HISD hasn’t come close to carrying out the number of job cuts touted by Miles in recent weeks, casting doubt on the accuracy of statements by the state-appointed superintendent at a time when trust in his administration remains tenuous.
The data, obtained through a public records request, show there were just 225 fewer people working in HISD’s nearly 8,000-member central office in early August compared to early March, just before the state announced sweeping sanctions against HISD. That’s roughly one-third of the cuts trumpeted by Miles.
The vast majority of those reductions are concentrated in lower-paying departments. At the same time, Miles has invested more in the highest echelons of HISD’s central administration, with nearly 100 more employees raking in salaries exceeding $150,000.
If Miles doesn’t cut deeper into the district, the findings raise questions about the long-term viability of his expensive plans for overhauling parts of HISD, which he has estimated will cost over $100 million this year alone. Miles is instituting drastic changes at dozens of campuses, including raising teacher pay, offering stipends to employees and adding more staff members to some classrooms.
HISD’s latest financial estimates show a projected deficit of nearly $250 million in a $2.1 billion general fund budget this fiscal year.
Throughout his nearly three months leading HISD, Miles has railed against the district’s central office, vowing to find cost savings in the vast network of people who do not work on campuses.
In recent weeks, Miles and his administration have said that HISD’s central office has swollen 61 percent in the past six years. (They’ve alternately used the stat in reference to central office available positions and district spending.)
To that end, Miles said in mid-July that his team had “moved pretty quickly to reorder.” He declared that “672 people lost their position during this reorganization” and he planned to close 1,675 vacant positions, showing a chart depicting the changes.
Miles’ statements, however, appear inflated.
The Landing could find no records validating the 61 percent figure after reviewing multiple HISD budgets, district-reported employee counts and state records of district finances. The various data sources suggested a more modest bump in central office employment and spending, ranging from roughly 10 percent to 30 percent.
HISD officials did not respond to a request for evidence supporting their 61 percent calculation.
To evaluate Miles’ job cut claims, the Landing obtained payroll records that detail salary information about every employee in HISD.
The Landing’s March-to-August comparison showed about 225 net job cuts, equal to roughly 3 percent of all central office positions. Virtually all of those losses are in departments like transportation, food services, facilities and maintenance.
Meanwhile, the number of administrators in higher-paying central office departments, such as academics, finance and information technology, is essentially unchanged since March.
HISD officials have not responded to multiple requests in recent weeks for a more detailed breakdown of the purported 672 eliminated positions.
Multiple people are quoted in the story saying some variation of “these things take time”. Which, fine. I believe that. Doesn’t seem to be the case for the things Mike Miles really cares about, but whatever. I’m just going to make three observations. One is to repeat my previously stated concerns about the financial sustainability of Miles’ plan. Making massive cuts at the HISD central office was supposed to be a cornerstone of that. You could argue that Miles still has a lot of room to make those cuts and pay for what he’s doing. I’m concerned that he’s just making HISD’s financial situation more precarious in the meantime.
Second, the disconnect between what Miles says he’s doing and what he’s actually doing ought to be a concern. In re: my first point, we’re assuming Miles will actually make the cuts he’s been talking about, not just talk about them. I stipulate that these things can take time. Why isn’t it Mike Miles saying that himself? Why isn’t his team providing details about these cuts he’s been touting when asked? Neither of these things should be that difficult. Hell, Miles could use the challenge of actually making his promised cuts as part of his hero narrative. Instead, we’re getting puffery and dodging the questions. The longer those unverified claims sit out there without any response or explanation from HISD, the more they look like plain old dishonesty. If that’s what we get for the relatively small stuff, what can we expect for the bigger things?
And third, you know what might help here? An independent Board that had actual oversight power. If nothing else, they might be able to get Mike Miles to answer some of these questions. I’m just saying.