SWEET MOTHER OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, does this story make me crazy. No need to read it, because I’m going to reprint it all below, with comments. Let’s get to it.
HEADLINE: Record number of Dallas ISD administrators make more than $100,000, analysis shows
Analysis! Oooh, analysis, analytics, analytical — I love all those words. And, my stars, $100,000? In American dollars? Nothing arbitrary about that figure. That’s the devil’s number! Let’s get to the story proper:
Two years after Superintendent Mike Miles admitted he paid administrators too much money, a record number of top officials in Dallas ISD are making more than $100,000 annually.
Okay, sure. Go on.
An analysis by The Dallas Morning News found that 175 administrators had six-figure salaries — up from 130 in Miles’ first year in the district and 111 the year before that.
Wait, 175? Are we sure that’s right? I’m supposed to be outraged, right? Except, DeKalb ISD in Georgia (part of Atlanta) has not quite 100k students, and in 2008-09, it paid 223 administrators $100k or more. Other nearby districts there did the same: Fulton County schools (219), Gwinnett County (214), Atlanta (181). In the school district in Louisville, Kentucky, there are currently 369 administrators making more than $100k a year. In Philadelphia, 395 employees on the district payrolls make more than $100k. In Albany Capital Region, 817 people earn six-figure salaries. (Granted, this comprises dozens of districts that make up the counties in and around Albany, so there will be more administrators, but the entire region represents a total of far fewer than DISD’s 160k kids.) So, okay, DISD has more $100k salaried employees than it used to. But it also has far fewer than many other smaller districts. Let’s continue:
In addition, Miles awarded his high-ranking deputies with raises this summer that exceed the 3 percent increase teachers received. Excluding Miles, the 25 highest-paid employees got an average salary hike of 14 percent.
Okay. So Miles rewards those close to him. Boo, I guess.
The spike in top administrative pay has widened the gap between central office employees and classroom teachers. The average teacher pay this year is $52,806, which, even with the 3 percent pay raise, is still lower than it was four years ago.
This is an extremely interesting point, one that is far more complicated than presented here and that needs its own post. I’ll try to get to it next week, because I need to feel like I’m accurately reflecting all sides, but basically there is a serious problem in the sense that the best teachers still don’t feel like they’re being treated properly. Pay is just one reflection of this. I would argue this is a profession problem, not a DISD problem, but in any case this reality breeds the Populism 101 sentiment that stokes stories like this: “Why are the fat cats making money while I’m doing the hard work and being crapped on?” Like I said, lots to this notion, worth its own post. I’ll try to get to it soon.
“We want our principals and executive directors to have the most competitive salaries in North Texas. We are moving in the same direction for teachers,” Miles said in a statement. “We have a lot of work to do as a school district, and I have very high expectations for every member of our staff, particularly those in leadership roles. They routinely work long hours and are on call 24 hours a day.”
Dallas ISD spokesman Jon Dahlander said that the 3 percent raise for all employees and the new principal evaluation plan were responsible for more people making $100,000.
All very true. That said, if the central point of this story was just that Miles overpays people, it would be accurate. It’s his strategy to get the best people, and he hates haggling over salary, so he throws money at ’em. Personally, I totally get this. Why in the world would someone come here to be raked over the coals by stories like this if Miles didn’t overpay? Also, important point: We talk all the time about controlling for poverty when evaluating teachers and districts. I submit that you have to do the same when looking at executive pay. With 160k kids, 90 percent of whom are in poverty, this job is tougher than most.
THAT said, you can absolutely criticize that approach given teacher concerns and an environment for teachers that has been recently described to me as “toxic.” I get that. It’s absolutely fair to do so. In fact, some board members have privately criticized Miles for overpaying because of the message it sends and simply because they feel they have a fiduciary responsibility to pay the least amount possible when hiring someone. (A principle that I would suggest is a slippery slope, especially for teachers.) Again, that’s not what we’re going to end with here. Let’s see what’s next.
Another hallmark of Miles’ tenure in Dallas ISD has been his reliance on young, inexperienced employees in top administrative jobs. Six DISD employees age 30 or younger make more than $100,000; no one that age made that much under former Superintendent Michael Hinojosa.
Although Miles has pledged to weed out employees who landed jobs through patronage and personal connections, the analysis by The News found that more than two dozen new hires share similar backgrounds, including working for Teach for America and Dallas education reform groups Commit and The Teaching Trust. Those groups have supported Miles’ efforts in Dallas ISD.
This is when the story really goes off the rails. Several things to unpack here:
“Experience” in what way? Meaning they haven’t been a school bureaucrat for four decades? Mark Lamster, the DMN’s architecture critic, had zero experience at a daily newspaper when he was hired last April. He was a brilliant hire. Maybe hiring people is more complicated than this story make it seem? Possibly? (I’ll get into specific bona fides of the people this story unfairly slags later in this post.)
Now, about that point that six DISD employees under the age of 31 (totally not an arbitrary number!) make over $100k (not arbitrary!). And the following point that zero did so under Hinojosa. And the following point that Miles has hired from Teach for America, Commit, and Teaching Trust — which is then somehow grouped together as showing preferential treatment for those who favor his reforms.
Right. Okay. [Deeeep breath.]
Superintendent Hinojosa left the district to head to Georgia in June 2011. (Fun fact: The district he went to had a higher 100k-to-student ratio than DISD does. But we’ll ignore that.) TFA arrived in Dallas in 2009. After six months of training, its grads teach for two years before deciding what path to take. (Dallas has the highest rate of TFA grads who stay in education, btw: 70 percent.) So those folks would not be ready to even apply for admin jobs until 2011. (Sure, some of the folks, like HR head Carmen Darville, came from other TFA programs. Just bear with me.) Teaching Trust was co-founded in 2010 by Rosemary Perlmeter, who is, for my money, the most amazing education expert in North Texas. (I’ve spent hours talking with her about what she does, and I’ve spent hours talking to Alex Hales, who runs TFA in Dallas. Because that’s what I do, even though this gig is part-time.) TT’s leadership support and training programs for teachers wouldn’t have produced anyone ready for administrative jobs (or employees ready to apply for those jobs) for at least a year. And Commit, the data-driven nonprofit that tries to help all Dallas County schools, wasn’t founded until 2012. So, yes, this amazing pipeline of talent has been set up in Dallas, and instead of thanking Miles for using it to get talented, passionate, well-trained people into the administration, the DMN is going to say this is a patronage/personal friendship system? Really? Patronage, Mr. Haag? Okay. I guess its good business to ignore a talent pipeline that puts in place people who are materially better than their predecessors. If that’s cronyism, let’s hear it for cronyism.
Look, those organizations are doing the impossible: Convincing young, smart, passionate people to commit themselves to turning around large urban school districts. Why is that so hard? For one reason, as we’ll see when we get to the disgusting slagging of DISD’s early ed chief, these folks are taking pay cuts from what they’d be worth in the private sector. But also because part of the deal is clearly that your name will be dragged through the mud on the front page of the paper in barely comprehensible smear jobs like this one.
Also: so young people are inherently bad? Is that what we’re saying? Because school board president Miguel Solis was 27 when elected by the people of his district. But that’s bad, right? He clearly can’t do the job, right? Is that because he’s young, or because he’s a TFA grad? Just triple checking. They’re bad because they aren’t putting plans in place to improve outcomes for kids, right? We’re sure of that, even though several of the folks you name-checked are just now developing plans that won’t be measurable for two to three years. I’m sure you asked, though. That’s what’s important.
Unlike salaries for teachers and principals, pay for administrators isn’t confined to what evaluation plans dictate. For Miles’ top staff, raises appear to be handed out at will.
“AT WILL!” Like, free will? What the hell is this country coming to?
The top administrators who report to Miles received some of the largest pay increases in the district.
When operations chief Wanda Paul wanted a raise, she asked for it in an April email exchange with Miles that started with her requesting a day off. After he approved the vacation, she responded: “I also wanted to also discuss my compensation when you have an opportunity. I am $42k below the previous COO. I would respectfully request that you adjust my compensation to reflect a more equitable outcome.”
Her predecessor, Kevin Smelker, whom Miles brought from his former Colorado district, made $220,000. Paul got her wish and now makes $197,760. It is an 11 percent increase from her previous pay of $178,000.
So, a female, doing the same job, was making $42k less than the man who previously held that job. She asked for a raise. She is now making $22+k less. The nerve of her. She should have taken the advice of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and just stayed quiet and expected raises to come, like good girls are supposed to.
After Paul’s salary request, Miles asked human resources to review top administrator pay in DISD and similar districts elsewhere. The results showed that every member in Miles’ cabinet already made above the market average, according to documents obtained by The News. The peer group included Houston ISD, Chicago Public Schools, Arlington ISD, Austin ISD, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD and Northside ISD in San Antonio.
The district’s report in April found that in Houston, which has 50,000 more students, the chief financial officer made $206,000, compared with $210,000 in DISD. It also showed that DISD’s chiefs of human resources and academics made more than their peers in Houston. Pay for the administrators over operations and technology were below Houston’s salaries.
As I said, if the story stuck to showing that Miles pays more than the going rate, I’d have only nit-picky problems with it. (Like pointing out that the CFO has saved the district millions leading up to its upcoming TRE request, has instituted widely praised accountability practices to root out corruption in purchasing, and, as Haag points out, made only $4k more than the person in Houston.) Also, let’s note that this shows we have on person making $4k more, two making more than Houston counterparts, and two making less. Front-page news!
Yet the six cabinet members who report to Miles received an average pay increase in recent months of 7.7 percent, according to the analysis by The News.
Some large pay increases went to administrators who received promotions. The new principal evaluation also pushed 14 principals into six-figure salaries this year. But some DISD administrators stayed in the same position. Miles, whose pay is set by the school board, makes $300,000 and hasn’t received a raise.
Deputy superintendent Ann Smisko, who expanded her job this year, got an 11 percent bump to $226,600. Personnel chief Carmen Darville, who hasn’t taken on additional duties, received a 12 percent increase — and now makes $190,550.
I like that: “expanded her job this year.” She’s basically in charge of running everything important day-to-day. If you watch board briefings or meetings, she’s the one answerable for anything concerning academic programs, anything that doesn’t fall under CFO Jim Terry. Cute way to say that. And Darville, well, Darville runs HR now. You need to know that two departments in DISD, the HR department and the Alternative Certification programs, were completely, utterly broken. DISD used to hire 80 percent of its new teachers after June 15, when the best teachers have already been gobbled up by other districts and are under contract. The Alt Cert program was graded F by the National Council on Teacher Quality just this year. Both needed new leadership. With that knowledge, understand that high-quality HR directors can work in any industry. An HR director overseeing a 20,000 employee base with $1.7 billion in annual revenues would easily command a quarter mil. The DMN, though, would rather have someone in place with “experience,” like the HR director before Miles came onboard, the one who was a promoted high school principal. Ridiculous.
One of Miles’ top confidantes, Paula Blackmon, received a $24,880 increase to $164,800 after she took over two additional departments this year. Blackmon joined Miles’ inner circle in August 2013 after serving as Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ chief of staff. Miles has turned to Blackmon for advice on how his initiatives will resonate with the public. She also spent last school year winning community support for DISD’s teacher performance-pay plan.
Dahlander said Blackmon received a pay raise because she increased her responsibilities and now oversees volunteer services and community engagement.
Another aide to Miles, assistant superintendent Karon Cofield, also received a hefty pay raise. Cofield, who followed Miles to Dallas from the same Colorado district, received a 19 percent salary increase to $173,040. She runs a key program that prepares aspiring principals for campus leadership roles. Of the 105 fellows in the program the last two years, 26 have gone on to principal jobs in DISD.
I’ve known Paula Blackmon since she worked as Mayor Rawlings’ chief of staff. She’s worth every penny. She’s tireless, smart, and only cares about making the district better. She’s sharp enough politically to navigate the bear traps laid by destructive board members and the media. She doesn’t need my help defending her. I don’t know Cofield.
Miles spent his first two years in Dallas ISD crafting precise formulas for paying principals and teachers. Principals, starting this year, are paid based on performance. Teachers work under a similar system, which will tie their pay next year with student academic scores and their own performance.
Miles acknowledged two years ago that he set pay for his cabinet members without consulting salaries in other districts. He said, in the future, he would conduct an analysis when setting salaries and better communicate why administrators deserved them.
His concession came after he took heat for paying then-communications chief Jennifer Sprague $185,000 — a 113 percent hike from her previous job in Miles’ Colorado district. Sprague, who made more than the White House press secretary, left DISD after seven months on the job.
Emails obtained by The News show that some employee salaries still seem to be set haphazardly. When a Dallas ISD elementary school principal was promoted to a middle school principal job in May, two human resources administrators decided on his new salary in an email exchange.
“I am recommending $99,000. Tonya do you agree?” human resources chief Darville wrote to executive director Tonya Sadler Grayson.
Grayson responded, “I agree — approximately 15%,” saying that the principal was going to a revamped middle school. That principal’s salary was adjusted to $104,000 this school year when the compensation component of the principal evaluation went into effect.
I honestly don’t know what the point of this section is. I guess it’s “HR people discuss raises.” Sprague was a terrible hire, everyone admits, but it’s worth noting that the person who had the same position in Houston made that exact same salary.
Miles has increasingly hired younger administrators, many of whom share similar experiences with education reform groups. Some also have nontraditional backgrounds, as he does.
Miles started his education career after working about two decades in the Army and the U.S. State Department. When he recently looked for a new chief to oversee school choice in DISD, Miles picked Mike Koprowski, 30, a former Air Force intelligence officer. Koprowski, who makes $165,000, was most recently a fellow with the The Broad Center, an education improvement group where Miles also trained as a superintendent.
Koprowski is among six DISD employees who are 30 or younger and make at least $100,000. Several of them, including 29-year-old deputy chief of staff Justin Coppedge, trained through Teach For America.
Coppedge, who makes $133,900, went to Dallas ISD last year to be Miles’ special assistant. He joined from software company Symphonic Source, where school board president Miguel Solis, the previous special assistant to Miles, now works. The company’s owner, Ken Barth, is a founder and top contributor to education political action committee Dallas Kids First.
When Miles wanted to expand prekindergarten programs in the district last year, he hired 32-year-old Alan Cohen from Symphonic Source to lead the effort. On his job application, Cohen wrote he applied for the job because Barth asked him to.
Before DISD, Cohen only spent 10 months in education, when he was a fellow at Commit, the education nonprofit led by influential businessman Todd Williams. He came to Dallas after he ran a marketing company in New York City, where he wrote a business plan for a Texas barbecue restaurant opening in the northeast. He makes $123,600 in DISD.
This last section disparages folks with snide cherry-picking. It makes me sick to my stomach.
Koprowski was hired to create 35 schools of choice to increase student and parent engagement in an offering that meets their needs. It’s designed to reduce student absences, lead to higher achievement, and lower teacher absences because they work in a model (single gender, STEM, dual-language, etc.) that resonates with them. I’m hoping those choices will include conversion to K-8 models. But that’s quibbling. Oh, and he was hired 90 days ago. The first school of choice won’t open until fall 2016. Oh, and he went to Harvard, and he worked at the state board of education office in Tennessee. But, sure, he’s a bad hire.
Coppedge I only know through a few casual meetings, but he’s great, super smart, and I hear he has a thick skin, so again I don’t need to defend him. His work defends itself.
Ken Barth’s kid went to school with my kid in DISD, although we didn’t know each other then. I’ve talked to him since, though, and his passion for helping DISD get better outcomes for poor kids is unquestioned. Suggesting he’s doing anything else seems absurd, but for those who see conspiracy in all acts of kindness and charity, I suppose he’s a master conspirator.
Alan Cohen I know well, partly because I met him before he took this job, and partly because early education is something I’m very passionate about. We’ve spent many hours discussing his plans for the district. He was hired less than a year ago to address and substantially grow DISD’s pre-K program both in terms of enrollment and quality. It will be five years before we see the fruit of that labor in 3rd-grade scores. I’ve talked to several folks at other agencies (like United Way, also very committed to early education in Dallas), and Cohen is basically a rockstar among these folks. Oh, and he’s got an MBA from the prestigious Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, the graduates of which ALWAYS start making six figures right away. There’s no question he’s worth more on the open market, if for no other reason than next Thursday’s presentation to the school board will be the third long-range strategic plan he’s done for a multibillion organization since he graduated. But, sure, pretend he’s not qualified because he once did a business plan for a barbecue restaurant.
You realize how big DISD, right? It’s a $1.7 billion operation. It’s as big as the e-cig market. It’s a business the size of L.A. Fitness. Oh, and it’s charged with educating the poorest kids in our city. It’s a political punching bag and a media piñata. And half-assessed stories like this one — which in no way get to core issues affecting kids, which never ask other education experts for their take, which only parrot the status-quo snakes who fill the DMN‘s comments section — make it harder to get good people to come here and stay here. You realize this, right? You realize that the paper is, in this way, hurting kids? And many of the editors there are making more than $100k to stand by and watch it happen.