So much news, sometimes all you can do is link ’em up…
The HISD Board of Managers had its second meeting on Thursday.
It was mostly calm and quiet in the auditorium as new Houston ISD board members listened to a presentation about the budget, reviewed an agenda for their next meeting and peppered new Superintendent Mike Miles with questions about his vision for the state’s largest school district.
Occasional shouting could be heard from outside the room, meanwhile, as the majority of parents, teachers and community members who attended the public meeting were sequestered in a separate room to watch the proceedings via a screen. Several people were barred from stepping into the auditorium by HISD police officers.
One man who was registered to speak during public comment was detained in handcuffs and taken to the Harris County Joint Processing Center, according to witnesses. Others, assigned upon entry to the overflow room, crowded around the auditorium doors shouting, “Let us in! Let us in! Let us in!”
Inside the auditorium, roughly 35 chairs were set up for spectators and a dozen seats were reserved for the press, while several large tables dominated the room for the board members, who opted to sit facing each other during the workshop instead taking their places at the dais per usual.
“The dais is a little bit restrictive, and being able to sit together as a group on the floor with the superintendent speaking directly to us and answering our questions really was the most effective manner,” said board president Audrey Momanaee. “We really did have a very productive session today.”
Meanwhile, more than two dozen people spoke out during public comment in opposition to the takeover and the new governance body. Miles was not in the auditorium during public comment, but said later that he watched it from afar because “the focus is on the board.”
Many of the elected trustees who have been stripped of their power attended the meeting, including Kathy Blueford-Daniels, who said she was extremely disappointed by the limited public access to the auditorium.
“You will not be able to bridge any relationships with people in the community by these actions,” she said. “I cannot accept the way this is being done.”
During the meeting, Miles laid out his proposal for the 2023-2024 budget, which the board is scheduled to vote on next week.
The new administration’s proposal is largely similar to the $2.2 billion budget crafted by the previous district leaders but includes small changes to accommodate Miles’ new vision for HISD, which focuses on meeting the needs at long-struggling schools without subtracting resources from high-performing schools, he said.
“The foundation of it is equity,” Miles said. “You’ll see more resources going to under-served communities.”
Miles said he wants to reduce expenditures by cutting $50 million in various third-party contracts for services, $30 million from the central office and $25 million in positions funded by pandemic relief dollars, which would soon be eliminated regardless since those funds will expire by September 2024.
The contracts on the chopping block are likely those for services that can instead be provided in-house, such as principal leadership training, but not those that serve student needs, Miles said.
“We can’t get rid of all contracted services or vendors…but we can cut down on the things that we can do ourselves, and do it better,” he said.
The central office cuts will likely impact the chief academic office, professional development and school leadership, Miles said, while transportation, nutrition, custodial and finance offices will be left untouched. Miles did not provide a figure for exactly how many central office jobs will be eliminated, but said some are already vacant positions.
Those budget cuts would free up roughly enough money to cover the $106.7 million that Miles estimates is needed to fund his top priorities, which include creating the New Education System that aims to reconstitute low-performing schools, improving instruction quality and bolstering special education services.
We’ll need to talk more about the budget, but in the meantime it would be nice if we could get the meetings to be better.
HISD officials allowed all registered public speakers to address the board, though a majority had to give their one-minute remarks in the separate overflow room. Their comments were broadcast live to the board members.
Attendee Kendra Yarbrough-Camarena, who gave her comments from the overflow room, said she was disappointed and felt “isolated.”
“Unfortunately, I had this whole great thing to say, and then I got put in this room where I can’t look at you in the face and actually say the things that I need to say,” Yarbrough-Camarena said during her public comment.
Board President Audrey Momanaee called their typical seating arrangement “restrictive” and said sitting as a group on the floor of the boardroom was the “most effective manner” to conduct the workshop. The board typically sits on an elevated platform with all nine members facing the crowd.
Board members will continually consider different options to have productive meetings, Momanaee said.
Yeah, I don’t think that was right. The people attending the meeting should be in the same room as the Board members.
On the subject of the budget, the cuts that have been proposed are in the service of funding Miles’ “New Education System” (NES). How’s that supposed to work?
NES includes every elementary, middle and high school in three feeder patterns: Kashmere, North Forest and Wheatley. Three other campuses Miles deemed “high-need” — Highland Heights Elementary School, Henry Middle School and Sugar Grove Academy — will be part of the NES.
Miles’ plans to make educators re-apply for their jobs have been well-publicized, but his ideas go much further than that.
To start, Miles plans to pay teachers in NES schools much more than before, in an effort to attract and retain top talent.
Miles has only released salaries for middle school NES teachers to date — he’s expected to announce pay plans for elementary and high school teachers in the coming weeks — but the available data shows the commitment to higher pay.
Middle school reading, English Language Arts, math and science teachers will earn minimum salaries of $81,000 to $86,000, with the maximum ranging from $99,000 to $111,000. Social studies and electives teachers will start at $74,000 and $65,000 respectively.
Teacher salaries typically began at $61,500 last school year and maxed out near $80,000, according to HISD’s compensation manual. Educators teaching core subjects, such as math and reading, did not make significantly more than their peers.
Teachers placed inside NES classrooms also will receive various financial incentives, including a $10,000 bonus and $2,000 stipend for summer professional development.
“The money will be good, but there’s another side of that,” Miles said. “That is high-performance culture, high quality of instruction and accountability. Not all teachers will want to do that and not all teachers can do that. So that’s why we’re interviewing everybody. We’re going to have a performance interview, and those we think can do it are the ones we’ll hire.”
Obvious questions: How are you going to fund that beyond those schools? What happens if these high-quality teachers are coming from other HISD schools? What happens if you don’t get enough of those teachers? What metrics are you going to use?
All questions for another day, I guess. In the meantime, we have not one but two Chron op-eds urging us all to give Miles and the Board of Managers a chance. First, from four of the sidelined Trustees.
We expect the new board and superintendent to be transparent. We expect them to engage effectively with families and students — not just the loudest voices but, most importantly, with the ones who have been marginalized. We expect them to demonstrate results in key areas such as literacy and in college and career readiness, especially for our populations of students who are furthest behind, regardless of which schools the students attend and without ignoring the needs of the whole child.
The community is skeptical and has concerns, and those are natural components of significant and misunderstood change. However, we also encourage the community to give the new leadership a chance. We believe that no one chooses to sit at that dais who doesn’t have the best intentions for students in their heart, and these ten new leaders are no different than we are in that value.
Our students need this new board and superintendent to be successful. We have high expectations and plan to hold them accountable to outcomes, but we also plan to give them a chance. We hope you will do the same. Anything less, and children suffer. Our students have already had enough lost years. We need to work together for a better future for all our students. HISD students are capable of reaching their potential, and we should cooperate as a community to do everything we can to ensure they live out their dreams.
We are very much in agreement that it would be best if this Board and this Superintendent are successful at achieving better student outcomes across the district and especially in the parts of it that need it most. It remains to be seen how transparent they will be in doing so. This cannot be separated from the skepticism and concerns.
And one from longtime Dallas journalist Jim Schutze.
I think I’m a fairly predictable ex-hippie liberal. I found myself across a table at Starbucks from a person who did not meet any of my expectations. Calm, funny, suave, self-deprecating and decidedly intellectual, Miles was not my picture of Col. Blimp.
And yes, he did have a successful military career as an Army Ranger and infantry company commander. But there’s a lot more. After the military, Miles had a second career as a Russia expert in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and after that another career — before Dallas — as a school superintendent in Colorado.
All I really want to say here, with keen awareness of my lack of standing, is that I hope Houston will keep its eyes, mind and heart open about Miles and the regime he will impose. And he will definitely impose a regime. That’s where the ex-military part comes in.
Miles is not, as his detractors never fail to claim, a my-way-or-the-highway guy. But he is a take-the-hill person. He will not bring with him any Austin politics, any of the terrible gender persecution or other maliciousness that people in the statehouse truck in, because none of that is his hill. He has one hill. It was his hill in Dallas. It will be his hill in Houston.
Miles will demonstrate in his first year in Houston that much of the common belief about education is false. Demographics are not destiny. He will show that the dearly held conviction of liberals like myself — that we must somehow solve or eradicate poverty and racism in order to rescue poor urban minority children — is mistaken at many levels.
Poor kids can save themselves. But to save themselves they must first be taught to read fluently by the end of the third grade. Literacy is their salvation, and literacy is Mike Miles’ hill.
Again, we all want that to happen. I’ll be delighted if my skepticism proves to have been overblown. Until then, I’ll be holding on to it.