Mike Miles gains power as Houston ISD Board of Managers approves major policy changes, union files grievances and community members protest

State-appointed superintendent Mike Miles gained more power Thursday night, but he didn’t get everything he asked for. Also this week, the Houston ISD teachers’ union filed grievances seeking to pause the reforms in about 60 of the 85 targeted schools, and community members organized a “read in” protest at the board meeting. 

HISD Superintendent Mike Miles after the TEA takeover
Dominic Anthony Walsh/Houston Public Media
Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles met with reporters after the TEA takeover of HISD officially took place on Thursday.

The state-appointed leaders of Houston's public school system overhauled a set of policies Thursday night, handing superintendent Mike Miles expanded power — among several changes, the new rules give him authority to spend large sums of money without board approval, to hire non-certified educators and to change magnet programs.

Although many of Miles' requests were granted, several were tweaked in response to concerns the Board of Managers.

"This is a give-and-take with the Board of Managers," Miles said at a press conference after the meeting. "We try to make policy together. We also try to make sure that we can do what’s effective for getting the outcomes you want for kids — but also to hear if the board has any concerns, and to adjust accordingly so that we can keep moving forward."

The changes are wide-ranging, affecting policies from the student code of conduct to union consultation rules.

State-appointed Board of Managers approves expanded powers for Miles, tweaks some requests

Miles initially requested the ability to spend up to $2 million at a time without board approval. That was cut in half after some pushback from board managers. The new threshold, $1 million, is still ten times higher than the previous limit of $100,000.

The board added an amendment requiring the administration to give a quarterly report on purchases between $250,000 and $1 million.

"I think that’s a way to be transparent with our community," said board manager Rolando Martinez, who introduced the amendment. "That is helpful for me so that when I go to the community I know what those expenses are, so that I can explain exactly what we’re doing as a board."

Miles and some board managers argued the increased limit will allow the administration to act quickly, and that audits will continue to prevent malfeasance. Many community members and elected trustees criticized the change, which means that some large vendor contracts won't be subject to board votes and public comment before they're purchased.

Miles also wanted the ability to make sweeping changes to magnet programs. The Board of Managers reigned in the request to only include schools in the reformed "New Education System." There are 85 schools in the reform program now, and Miles plans to expand it to 150 campuses over the next few years.

The board denied Miles' request to entirely remove a requirement that administration consult with district employees. Under previous policy, district administrators had to meet with the district's largest teachers' union, the Houston Federation of Teachers, to discuss working conditions and program changes. With the new policy in effect, those meetings must happen four times a year, but HFT will not be the exclusive group representing teachers.

The board gave Miles the authority to seek waivers from the Texas Education Agency that would allow the district to employ non-certified teachers and administrators. According to Miles, there are 63 remaining teacher vacancies. He said the district started the summer with about 900, and that the district plans to hire 87 non-certified teachers.

He also presented survey results showing support for his reforms — in particular, his plan to pay teachers based on student test scores and "instructional quality" instead of years of experience.

"A lot of people took the survey," Miles said. "What this says is, once again, most teachers, administrators, parents and community members agree that what we had before is not good."

The conclusions were based on a few hundred responses, gathered this summer. As he presented, audience members pointed out the small sample size and questioned whether it truly represents the community.

Miles plans to transition the entire district to a "pay-for-performance" model in two years, with teacher evaluations and compensation based largely on student test scores as well as "instructional quality" and other metrics. Miles said each teacher would receive monthly "spot observations," along with administrative coaching on their instruction every day.

Under the model, about two out of every five teachers and one out of every three principals will be evaluated as less than "proficient." About three percent of teachers will receive "unsatisfactory" ratings and be removed from their roles each year.

The board greenlit the rollout of the new evaluation system on Thursday. Miles said he will continue to seek input on the "pay-for-performance" plan before it's fully implemented across the district in the 2025-26 school year.

Elected trustees remain split on reforms and policy changes

Four of the nine elected school board trustees held a public meeting Tuesday night to discuss the policy changes, even though they lost policy-making power to the state-appointed Board of Managers in June.

The meeting started rough. It was the first time the elected trustees have met since the takeover, and they no longer have access to board service staffers. The Zoom meeting was public, and it was disrupted with obscene images and people shouting.

Even with the disruptions, Kathy Blueford Daniels, Elizabeth Santos and the other trustees were able to discuss the sweeping policy changes.

"Some of these policies that they're updating — it's giving away too much power to the superintendent, y'all," said Blueford Daniels, who represents many of the Northeast Houston schools targeted for reforms.

Santos, who represents the predominantly Latino Northside area, criticized a change to the student code of conduct that makes it easier to expel kids with existing discipline records for new drug offenses.

"The addition to the Code of Conduct will have a massively disproportionate effect on poor kids or children of color," Santos said. "They’re much more likely to have prior documented discipline."

Miles declined to comment on that policy change after Thursday's vote.

There is some support from the elected board for certain policy changes.

Trustee Judith Cruz, for example, favors increasing the spending threshold that requires board approval to $1 million, arguing that the change "streamlines the process to approve vendors so that board members aren't approving hundreds of vendor contracts every month."

"I understand the concerns," she said, adding that the board will retain oversight through monthly budget reviews. "Board members have stewardship over taxpayer dollars. This does not take that away."

Union files grievances, community members protest library changes

Before the meeting, community members gathered in the lobby for a "read in" protest. They sat down, with books, and read. While Miles presented a report to the board, protestors in the audience turned their backs to him.

  • A protest of people reading books outside its Board of Managers meeting. (Photo Credit: Dominic Anthony Walsh/Houston Public Media)
    A protest of people reading books outside its Board of Managers meeting. (Photo Credit: Dominic Anthony Walsh/Houston Public Media)
  • A group of people protests by reading books at the a Houston ISD board of managers meeting. (Photo Credit: Dominic Anthony Walsh/Houston Public Media)
    A group of people protests by reading books at the a Houston ISD board of managers meeting. (Photo Credit: Dominic Anthony Walsh/Houston Public Media)
  • A protest of people reading books outside its Board of Managers meeting. (Photo Credit: Dominic Anthony Walsh/Houston Public Media)
    A protest of people reading books outside its Board of Managers meeting. (Photo Credit: Dominic Anthony Walsh/Houston Public Media)

The protest came in response to Mike Miles' plan to remove librarians from reformed schools and convert libraries into areas used for "differentiated instruction" and discipline. Miles has repeatedly emphasized that students will still have access to books, and he's accused critics of spreading misinformation.

"What’s the school without a library?" asked parent Jared Williams, with two daughters who attend MacGregor Elementary in tow. "Every school should have a library. Kids should be able to develop a love for reading."

Vera Moore, a rising junior at Sharpstown High School, recalled "fond memories" from her elementary school library, like winning a bicycle in third grade through a competitive reading program.

"It’s just simple necessities that children need, that these children will not be getting," Moore said.

The "read in" continued weeks of grassroots protests, mostly centered in the predominantly Black and Latino communities where schools face reforms.

On Tuesday, the Houston Federation of Teachers announced the filing of 57 grievances — one for each campus that "opted in" to the reform program over the summer, rather than being forced to join in the coming years as the "New Education System" reforms expand to 150 schools.

Those 57 additional campuses brought the total number of reformed schools to 85. In the first 28, every educator had to reapply for their job or be reassigned to another campus. At the 57 "NES-aligned" campuses, educators did not have to reapply.

HFT senior staff representative Kimbal Urrutia said the union filed the grievances because school principals "didn’t do everything properly" when consulting with campus-based committees before becoming NES-aligned.

"At this point, yes, we would ask that HISD put a pause on the NES-aligned programs, and if not, they have to provide evidence that everything was done correctly," Urrutia said.

The effort to press pause on the reforms faces an uphill fight. The grievance process has several stages, and the final arbiter is the Texas Education Agency, which appointed Miles and the Board of Managers in June.

In the press conference after Thursday's vote, Miles said the administration is focused on the start of classes later this month, when he expects to have no teacher vacancies, improved transportation services and a smooth transition to the "New Education System."

"I think it’s going to be a great day for kids," Miles said.