The nine members of the new Board of Managers were called sellouts, fascists and puppets, the name calling delivered in screams, chants, resolution and anguish at Thursday night’s first ever public Houston ISD Board of Managers meeting.
"None of us voted for you," said Stephan Hester who would shout out accusations throughout the meeting. "This is a Republican, white fear takeover."
Board members who'd all been appointed by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath in the state takeover of HISD, were urged to immediately resign and/or run Acting Superintendent Mike Miles out of town. A contingent of educators and parents even drove in from Dallas where Miles had been superintendent to warn everyone in Houston that things are going to get significantly worse with him in charge for both students and teachers.
Veteran HISD teacher Larry McKinzie said "All of the people who are up here [gesturing at the board members] had all of the chances in the world to help HISD. Where have you been? You haven't been here. We can't trust you."
It’s difficult to think of any group that had a rockier start in their first meet-the public moment. On a night marred by technical problems with mics not working and the screens that usually record votes not employed – even the elements allied against them as the lights went out thanks to the significant thunder storm rolling through – it appeared that no supporters of the takeover and its administrators showed up. Not a single registered speaker even said “Let’s give them a chance."
An hour before the meeting started, a group of protesters assembled outside the Hattie Mae White building, criticizing the takeover, TEA and Gov. Abbott. Some carried this protest complete with beating drums into the hallway outside the board room as the meeting began.
For his part, Miles— also appointed by Commissioner Morath — did not appear until well after the start of the 5:30 p.m. meeting, not walking in until 6:53 p.m.— and this further enraged those in attendance who wanted to know why he wasn't showing his face.
Never has an official’s first initial been used against him to such great effect “F. Mike Miles! F. Mike Miles!"
A rocky start for the new Board of Managers
The irony was, of course, that with all the yelling no one could hear the vote taken on the issues they’d been objecting to – with the result that when the board and superintendent filed out of the room, many were unsure what had just happened and if the meeting was even over. So what they missed was:
The board voted to ratify the temporary contract for Interim Superintendent F. Mike Miles, backdating it to June 1. He’ll be paid $1,473 a day while working in the temporary capacity until his contract is signed and he’s formally named HISD Superintendent (with little chance that this will not happen). He also receives $25,000 to cover relocation expenses.
They also elected the following officers: Audrey Momanaee, President; Ric Campo, Vice-President and Angela Lemond Flowers, Secretary. Momananee had already presided over the meeting to that point. In attendance in the audience were several of the former school board members, ousted in the takeover.
At the beginning of the meeting, each board member tried their hardest to deliver brief bios and say why they were sitting up there, offering up their own and their children's bona fides to establish their connection to HISD. Janette Garza Lindner got smacked extra hard by audience members who pointed out they really
didn't want her, that they had voted for trustee Elizabeth Santos who won the last election. For those in attendance, it was difficult to hear the board members over the shouting, but the video created by HISD's audio visual wizards
makes their statements much clearer so it's worth checking out.
In any event, the parade of speakers that followed weren't too receptive to anything the board of managers had to say.
Dr. Patrick Huff, a retired middle school and high school teacher, pointed out that Wheatley High, which was a catalyst for the state takeover of the district, last year made a C in the school ratings and almost made a B with a 78. He said the accountability system is discriminatory and that schools in poor areas are portrayed to be bad schools. "They are not."
Several speakers warned of the dangers of "test prep" and questioned why the students in the 29 schools Miles has designated in need of extra help were now supposed to operate without librarians. "You wouldn't be doing it in my school so why are you doing it in black and brown schools?" asked parent Allison Newport.
Many were equally concerned about the board of managers voting to abandon a set meeting schedule, which they said, would make it harder for the public to know about and attend all the HISD meetings.
And several presented statistics that they said showed huge teacher attrition in Dallas when Miles was superintendent there and that students' achievement scores actually decreased by 20 percent.
"In 2015 under Mike Miles' regime, almost 10,000 teachers left," said Lynn Davenport of Dallas.
HISD teacher Jonathan Bryant told the board they should send Miles away. "With Mike the math don't add up. Rather than bringing his best ideas to HISD, Miles has reached into the dustbin of failed corporate education reform and pulled out the worst ideas.
"Under this scheme, Miles will turn these predominantly black schools into testing factories and in the process turn our students into data points and test scores to be sold to testing companies," Bryant predicted.
Next up: Board meetings on the next two Thursdays to nail down the budget for the 2023-24 school year and then community outreach get togethers. Might be some more Roll of Thunder time ahead.