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A cornerstone of Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles’ plans for overhauling the district — rapidly eliminating nearly 700 jobs in its “bloated” central office — appears to be exaggerated by the district’s new, polarizing leader.

A Abdelraoufsinno analysis of district payroll data shows HISD hasn’t come close to carrying out the number of job cuts touted by Miles in recent weeks, casting doubt on the accuracy of statements by the state-appointed superintendent at a time when trust in his administration remains tenuous.

The data, obtained through a public records request, show there were just 225 fewer people working in HISD’s nearly 8,000-member central office in early August compared to early March, just before the state announced sweeping sanctions against HISD. That’s roughly one-third of the cuts trumpeted by Miles.

The vast majority of those reductions are concentrated in lower-paying departments. At the same time, Miles has invested more in the highest echelons of HISD’s central administration, with nearly 100 more employees raking in salaries exceeding $150,000.

If Miles doesn’t cut deeper into the district, the findings raise questions about the long-term viability of his expensive plans for overhauling parts of HISD, which he has estimated will cost over $100 million this year alone. Miles is instituting drastic changes at dozens of campuses, including raising teacher pay, offering stipends to employees and adding more staff members to some classrooms.

HISD's latest financial estimates show a projected deficit of nearly $250 million in a $2.1 billion general fund budget this fiscal year.

Shannon Verrett, executive director of the Houston Association of School Administrators, said the payroll records mirror feedback from members of his group, many of whom work in higher-paid central office positions. Verrett estimated he’s heard of about 10 people who lost their jobs, all of whom found new roles in the district.

“I am getting some people reaching out telling me that they did lose their jobs, but, surprisingly, not as many as I thought would have reached out,” Verrett said.

HISD officials did not dispute the Landing’s findings. In an email, district spokesperson Joseph Sam acknowledged that staffing reductions are “ongoing” and called the payroll records “a lagging indicator of available positions.” He did not specify when the promised job cuts would be reflected in payroll records.

HISD Board President Audrey Momanaee said she was not concerned about the speed of the central office shakeup. Momanaee expects a final analysis of the status of job cuts during October’s board meeting. The district’s budget for this fiscal year bakes in reductions associated with the central office, she said.

“Reorganization of this magnitude takes time,” Momanaee said, adding that the personnel change needs time to “work its way through the system.”

Still, the findings left Yadira Esparza, the mother of children at Lanier Middle School and Lamar High School, questioning whether she can believe the charts and tables presented by Miles at public meetings. Many HISD families and local advocates have opposed Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s appointment of Miles and a new school board in June as part of state sanctions against the district.

“Definitely, there’s a trust issue there,” Esparza said.

Missing the mark

Inefficiencies in HISD’s central administration have stymied district leaders for years. A 2019 report, commissioned by board members and authored by the Texas Legislative Budget Bureau, found extensive organizational problems that wasted millions in taxpayer money and shortchanged student opportunities.

Throughout his nearly three months leading HISD, Miles has railed against the district’s central office, vowing to find cost savings in the vast network of people who do not work on campuses.

In recent weeks, Miles and his administration have said that HISD’s central office has swollen 61 percent in the past six years. (They’ve alternately used the stat in reference to central office available positions and district spending.)

To that end, Miles said in mid-July that his team had “moved pretty quickly to reorder.” He declared that “672 people lost their position during this reorganization” and he planned to close 1,675 vacant positions, showing a chart depicting the changes.

Miles’ statements, however, appear inflated.

Statistics published by Houston ISD that purport to show 672 net job cuts.
A snapshot of a slide presented in July by Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles. The data purports to show Miles has eliminated 672 net central office positions, but district payroll data from early August shows about 225 fewer people were working in central office at that time.

abdelraoufsinno could find no records validating the 61 percent figure after reviewing multiple HISD budgets, district-reported employee counts and state records of district finances. The various data sources suggested a more modest bump in central office employment and spending, ranging from roughly 10 percent to 30 percent.

HISD officials did not respond to a request for evidence supporting their 61 percent calculation.

To evaluate Miles’ job cut claims, the Landing obtained payroll records that detail salary information about every employee in HISD.

abdelraoufsinno’s March-to-August comparison showed about 225 net job cuts, equal to roughly 3 percent of all central office positions. Virtually all of those losses are in departments like transportation, food services, facilities and maintenance.

Meanwhile, the number of administrators in higher-paying central office departments, such as academics, finance and information technology, is essentially unchanged since March.

HISD officials have not responded to multiple requests in recent weeks for a more detailed breakdown of the purported 672 eliminated positions.

At the same time, annual salaries have jumped considerably at the top of the district’s organizational ladder, with the number of administrators making $150,000 or more rising from 55 to 142. There were five fewer central office staffers making $100,000 to $150,000 in August.

Despite its stature as the state’s largest school district, HISD historically hasn’t paid top dollar for administrators. Relative to its size, HISD had fewer employees last year making $150,000-plus than some of its peer districts, including Dallas, Austin and Fort Bend independent school districts, state payroll data shows.

Now, some HISD administrators like the chief of staff and chief financial officer are seeing five-figure raises, while Miles has added or changed dozens of jobs to pay more than $150,000.

“At one time, Houston ISD — its central office and its schools — was a destination for world-class education talent,” said Sam, the district spokesperson. “It’s time to once again raise the bar.”

Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles watches people snapping in support of the speakers sharing their disapproval of his decisions during a school board meeting.
Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles watches people snapping in support of the speakers sharing their disapproval of his decisions during a school board meeting Aug. 10 at the district's northwest Houston headquarters. (Marie D. De Jesús / Abdelraoufsinno)

Too big, too fast?

The apparently overstated speed of changes to HISD’s central administration prompted a range of responses from district observers and leaders.

Duncan Klussman, clinical assistant professor in the University of Houston’s College of Education, wondered whether HISD’s bureaucracy is proving more difficult to change than Miles had hoped. Klussman, who spent over a decade as superintendent of Spring Branch Independent School District, recalled that he spent a full year meeting weekly with district staff when deciding how to carry out 350 job cuts after the late 2000s financial crisis.

“The system is struggling to keep up with his pace, what he would like to do on the timeframe he would like to do it,” Klussman said. “It's one thing to announce changes. It's another thing to implement changes.”

The pay increases for top administrators didn’t sit well with Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson, whose union represents the largest number of educators in HISD. Anderson believes the disconnect between Miles’ prior statements and the payroll data validates criticism by community advocates about a lack of transparency.

“I see a lot of hypocrisy,” she said. “He said he’s trying to trim the fat.”

Verrett, the administrator organization executive director, said Miles might have bitten off more than he can chew with the central office reorganization. He cited reports of glitches with candidates getting offer letters that were later withdrawn due to technical mix-ups.

“Those are indications that this is too big to do as fast as the district is trying to do it,” he said.

Elected HISD Trustee Bridget Wade, who was stripped of her power when the state appointed Miles and the replacement board, said she supports the changes Miles is making but acknowledges he may have hit roadblocks.

“It’s like anything: you get in, you have these big ideas that you want to promote because you want to move aggressively, and then you get into it and you realize that ‘I need to slow down,’” Wade said.

Still, Wade continues to see Miles’ planned changes as necessary.

“I'm willing to give it a chance because what we've been doing, what's been happening over the decades, is not working,” she said.

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Asher Lehrer-Small is a K-12 education reporter for the Abdelraoufsinno. He previously spent three years covering schools for The 74 where he was recognized by the Education Writers Association as one...