The Mike Miles “efficiency report”

I’m going to reserve judgment on this for now, but it is fair to say that I start out with a nontrivial amount of skepticism.

Nearly a year into the state takeover, appointed Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles says he has uncovered long-standing inefficiencies, wasteful spending and redundancies that he plans to fix to free up money to support his school reforms without drawing down district savings.

The superintendent said the plan unveiled Tuesday will support the addition of over 100 schools to his New Education System next year, paying for higher salaries and other elements of his controversial reform program. Though Miles did not give an estimate of how much the cuts will save or how much the expansion will cost, he promised his planned corrections would keep the district’s rainy-day fund above $850 million.

Previous Superintendent Millard House II’s administration had predicted that fund would drop to about $550 million by the end of the next school year.

“In order to increase the salaries at NES schools, we have to find efficiencies in the rest of the system,” Miles said. “The increase will be offset by efficiencies.”

The eight-part plan released Tuesday points to corrections in wasteful purchases, unnecessary contracts and ineffective staffing practices as steps HISD can immediately take to save tens of millions of dollars moving forward.

Overhauls to district transportation and maintenance services will further cut down on “inefficiencies” in the long run, Miles said. The superintendent said that decades worth of mismanagement had led HISD to a precarious position, and that “systems” were to blame rather than individuals.


Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of the education advocacy group Children at Risk, said the report successfully illustrates the magnitude of the issues facing HISD, and that he believes in Miles’ ability to correct the district’s budget. But whether Miles is capable of winning over a largely distrustful public may be another story.

“I don’t think that this guy lies. He really cares about the data … and it doesn’t take much to convince people there’s inefficiencies at HISD,” Sanborn said. “The cons to this are that I feel like inherent in this report is a little bit of mistrust of their own staff, and I think that will be hard internally. There’s already a morale issue, and I’m not sure if some of these things really help, and morale is not addressed in this as well. And I don’t think it’s Miles’ strength to address morale.”

You can find a copy of the report here. I have skimmed it but not given it a thorough reading yet. The Houston Landing provides a summary and some context.

Miles declined to name a dollar amount that he believes HISD can save through addressing the inefficiencies named in the report, but he said they would be enough to plug budget holes, which suggests the total may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We will save enough money to pay for the reforms that we need to put in place,” Miles said.

Miles, who was appointed by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath in June, has repeatedly claimed previous HISD administrations poorly managed the district’s roughly $2 billion budget. He said the issues identified in the Tuesday report represent “normal dysfunction” for large, urban school districts, but at a concerning scale. The structural issues behind the inefficiencies have persisted for years, or even decades, he said.

“I think the level (of inefficient practices) here was higher than I expected,” Miles said. “There was some level of, ‘Wow, this is worse than a typical urban district.’”

Miles cited examples including:

  • About 1,000 people remained on HISD payroll after they no longer worked there, some for several years. Only a handful continued to receive paychecks.
  • Spending about $20 million on 175 school buses he said HISD didn’t need.
  • Running buses under capacity, resulting in per-student transportation costs about five times higher than the national average — roughly equivalent to the cost of each student taking an Uber or Lyft to and from school.
  • Spending $26 million on overtime pay, with 650 employees last year accruing overtime hours exceeding 30 percent of their earnings.
  • Overspending on contracted services. HISD planned to spend about $300 million on contracted services last year, according to budget documents. Miles said he will cut $50 million for the 2024-25 budget.

Miles did not provide a detailed breakdown of changes he plans to make or evidence backing up some of the claims. For example, Miles did not name specific contractors that he believes are unnecessary.

HISD officials also did not explain why their data shows a dramatic, previously unreported decline in bus ridership, which contributed to their calculations showing transportation inefficiencies. Miles’ report suggests HISD’s bus ridership has dropped 65 percent since 2018-19, when the Legislative Budget Board said about 25,000 students took the bus each day. Data published by the state shows buses traveled about 35 percent fewer miles between 2018-19 and 2022-23.


In 2018, HISD’s school board requested a third-party review of the district’s operations from the Texas Legislative Budget Board, seeking to identify ways to streamline its expenditures. A year later, the legislative committee released its findings: HISD could save up to $237 million over five years — less than $50 million per year — if it undertook a number of efforts to restructure operations, including closing as many as 40 underutilized schools.

Miles acknowledged the 2019 report raised many of the same problems and possible solutions that his team identified in the efficiency report, but said his plan will spur savings at a larger scale.

In 2021, two years after the release of the budget board’s report, HISD leaders said they had saved roughly $6.7 million over two years, a fraction of the projected savings, by implementing some of its recommendations.

Miles has previously overstated the extent of his cost-saving measures when, in July 2023, he said his team had cut over 2,300 jobs from central office, including eliminating roughly 670 occupied positions. A Houston Landing investigation, however, found Miles had only let go of about a third as many employees as he said he had, while increasing the pay for the upper echelons of district administrators.

When a reporter asked Miles about the overstated central office cuts during a Tuesday press conference, Miles downplayed the exaggeration.

“What does it matter whether there’s 2,000 or 2,100 (cuts)? I will get the mission accomplished by cutting the people that we need to cut,” Miles said.

Again, I have only skimmed the report, so I’m not going to try to address anything specific. I have a few high level thoughts for now.

– I will stipulate up front that there are likely some big savings that can be had by making HISD leaner, more modern, more efficient, however you want to put it. Any large organization is going to be doing things that are outdated, redundant, unnecessary, not providing good value for the expenditure, and so on. Some of them will be relatively easy and uncontroversial to implement. Many will encounter some level of resistance – your “special interest” is my vital program, and so forth. One can accept that there are savings to be had while remaining aware that the topline promises – the “up to $X in savings” claims – are almost certainly overstated.

– All of this would be true even if Mike Miles had a sterling record of accuracy, transparency, and delivering on promises. He does not, with this story providing numerous receipts, and as such it would be wise to adjust one’s expectations downward. Not to zero by any means – again, there absolutely are savings to be had. Just, understand the source here and adjust accordingly.

– The devil is very much in the details here. What specific changes will be proposed, and what is the estimated savings from them? It’s all pie in the sky until we have the full story, and again that would be the case no matter how one perceives Mike Miles.

– It’s important to remember that whatever does get proposed, these changes will have an effect on the people of HISD – students, teachers, and staff in particular. It may well be that the best thing we can do in this situation is to cut that program or reduce those services or whatever else, even if it is detrimental to some number of people in HISD. We should be honest about that, that’s all I’m saying.

– All that said, there should be achievable savings, there certainly are bad processes now in place, and this sort of work, which was already in the early stages before Miles got here, is necessary and urgent. I remain skeptical – we all should – about how much there actually is to save, both as a theoretical matter and as a practical one. But the exercise is worth doing, if it is done well. And again, we’ll see how that part of it goes. The Chron editorial board is optimistic, and the Press and Houston Public Media have more.

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One Response to The Mike Miles “efficiency report”

  1. X says:

    Please update after you read the report. It answers many of your questions.

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