DISD Special Board Meeting Only Delays the Coming Showdown

Anti-Miles trustees don't want a ruling from Austin, because they think they're right. Huh?

The most important event at 3700 Ross yesterday wasn’t covered by any mainstream media in town, which isn’t surprising. Alan Cohen, DISD’s early education chief, presented his 99-page, 30-initiative report for early education/pre-K strategy in Dallas ISD. (In the meeting he said it was a 245-page plan, but that includes 146 pages of individual school profiles/data that we don’t need for our discussions.) I spent time yesterday talking to early education experts in Dallas, and they spoke in unanimous praise of Cohen and his efforts. The problem, of course, is how to properly fund it. I’ll have to get to these issues next week, because this is an incredibly important issue that change our city and this region over the next two decades.

Today, though, we need to deal with the special meeting that came after the board briefing, the one dealing with the Miles-Nutall Dade incident. You can watch the meeting in the video above and draw your own conclusions. I’ll give you a few bullet-point thoughts below:

• The DMN headline says that trustee Miguel Solis was “removed” from his position running the meeting, suggesting he abdicated his role unwillingly. Technically, sure, but watch it yourself and you’ll see how it went down. Joyce Foreman has several times tried the gambit of suggesting Solis is too close to Mike Miles to be allowed to govern meetings involving his old boss. Each time, Solis has thanked her for her opinion and then ignored it. He could have done the same here. In this case, he wanted there to be no suggestion of favoritism, so he willingly put it up for a vote. (It was the right thing to do, FWIW.)

• Why would a closed door meeting on whether to ask for an outside investigation take four hours? Several reasons. One is made clear later by the open-session comments of the trustees: Some trustees feel they absolutely have greater rights as individuals than do others in the district, be they parents or teachers or whomever, because they are elected officials. Elizabeth Jones comes out and says she believes this. Foreman, Bernadette Nutall, and to an extent Lew Blackburn feel the same way. Mike Morath, Solis, and others believe the law is clear and that only the board as a body corporate have authority. They feel this way because they can read. This probably took two hours to discuss: One hour for everyone to explain their position, and one hour for Jones to tell everyone that no one does more research than she does, she’s read the data, she’s read the studies, she’s talked to lawyers, the data are clear, she’s done a comprehensive analysis of this issue that can really only be understood if you have her level of understanding and educational CV vis-a-vis and henceforth and shalln’t be denied purple monkey dishwasher.

• Another reason it took so long: Some trustees really, really, really don’t want an outside investigation by anyone. This was also made pretty clear in the open session, as it was obvious that the votes were there for SOME sort of outside entity to look at the Dade incident. Why don’t they want an investigation, especially if they’re 100 percent confident that they hold special powers as representatives of the people? I think you know the answer to that: They’re scared the TEA will tell them, “No, the law is pretty clear — you only have authority as a body corporate.”

• ANOTHER reason it took so long, and a reason the anti-Miles trustees don’t want a TEA investigation: TEA officials would find that Nutall’s characterization of what happens leaves a lot of details out, details she has not denied in private. In theory, a District Attorney’s investigation (which Nutall has requested) would find the same thing, but I have a $10 bet that our new DA will take one look at this and dismiss it, because her office has more important things to do. (The fact there are more details about the incident than Nutall has publicly admitted to should not be seen as my saying she shows any sense of remorse for what she did. She takes no blame, thinks Miles should be fired, she was 100 percent in the right.)

• Now, what about this TEA investigation? Several things could happen: The TEA could say, nope, not gonna investigate it. It could say, sorry, you’re all nuts, we’re imposing TEA martial law on your butts. Most likely, though, there will be some investigation, and the resulting findings will give each side reason to crow. The TEA will say Miles was within his rights to order Nutall out but not to have police remove her, and it will say that Nutall was technically out of line but that she should be afforded more respect. (Why would it do this? Because there is enough conflicting law here to allow them such a mealy-mouthed determination, and more important because the TEA is an intensely political organization that is, on the whole, terribly run.)

• What of the board, then? Look, these divisions aren’t going away anytime soon. Jones, Nutall, and Foreman want Miles fired because they do. Morath and Bingham are fairly appalled at that wing of the board and believe they have to stand up to such bullies. The swing votes on anti-Miles issues ranges from Blackburn to Micciche to Cowan to Solis. As long as there is no change in governance structure, and as long as the anti-Miles types continue to get the sort of press coverage they crave, this dysfunction will continue and the stink will roll downhill. Anti-Miles trustees will continue to take hours during meetings talking about procurement items, which means (as Micciche rightly noted) not even an hour of discussion on the most important strategy question facing the district today: early education/pre-K. I know that Solis is an optimist, and that he hopes an outside review can help put an end to these governance questions so the board can re-focus itself on important strategy matters. I feel like an old, bitter man, but I just want to tell him that hope is a dangerous thing.


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