Dallas ISD chief 'shocked' after top aide faces indictment

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on May 28, 2013 at 5:17 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 29 at 7:56 AM

DALLAS — The latest departure of a high-level administrator from the Dallas Independent School District comes under a cloud of suspicion, and is prompting more calls for Superintendent Mike Miles himself to step down.

On Tuesday morning, Miles announced the sudden resignation of another lieutenant — this time his chief of staff. Jerome Oberlton, 47, told the superintendent Monday he expected to soon be indicted for his work in the Atlanta school district in 2006 when he served as chief information officer.

"I was shocked, because we had done a thorough background check," Miles told News 8. "We probably did a more thorough background check on Jerome than we did on anyone else."

Yet Miles admitted he ordered additional reviews because Oberlton arrived under suspicion. While serving as the technology director in the Baltimore school district, Oberlton drew heat for questionable spending.

He was ordered to repay that district $5,000 after criticism was raised on spending for retreats, dinners and purchases at retailers like Bath & Body Works and WalMart, according to local news reports.

Oberlton also spent $250,000 renovating his office at a time when many Baltimore schools were badly in need of repair.

Later, Oberlton admitted publicly it was an error in judgment.

Despite the concerns, Miles felt Oberlton was still the best choice to be his top deputy.

“We investigated it and we were satisfied with the explanation from the [Baltimore] superintendent," Miles said, adding that he received an e-mail from the Baltimore chief expressing shock at Oberlton’s resignation.

Miles has now ordered an audit of Dallas’ finances to ensure nothing improper was committed while Oberlton served here.

This provided more evidence for Miles' detractors that the new superintendent isn't capable of managing — or even hiring — the leaders needed for Dallas schools.

"Mike Miles is very much a 'my way or the highway' superintendent," said activist Mike MacNaughton with Dallas Friends of Public Education. "Right now, I think it's time to show him the highway."

MacNaughton supported Miles when he arrived in Dallas nearly a year ago, but now says the new superintendent needs to show himself the door.

"Right now, I can't say he's the leader Dallas wants or needs; I believe he is in over his head," MacNaughton said.

"This is one other indicator that says we're in trouble here, and it doesn't look like it's getting any better," said Rena Honea with the Alliance/AFT teachers’ union. "Why are these people being offered positions, accepting them, and leaving?"

Miles has seen at least seven of his top aides leave in the year since he took control of Dallas schools.

Oberlton, who started in January, is his third chief of staff. An earlier chief of staff quit before he even started.

In November, Leonardo Caballero, an administrator at a Beaumont university, accepted the job — then changed his mind days later, citing family reasons.

Another cabinet member, Miles' chief financial officer, Rene Barajas, left after only three months.

"What vetting process are they using? Who is doing the vetting? And are they truly looking out for the students of this city?" Honea asked. "It's caused tremendous confusion — not only in employees, and the students, but for the parents. Who's really leading our district?"

Miles dismissed calls for his resignation, insisting, "that is not on my radar."

"I'm here doing the work of the students and of the staff," Miles said. "I expect to be here a long time."

Miles insisted the changes in leadership are having no effect on students. He added, however, that he will reconsider how he selects future leaders.

"We were thinking this morning, 'Could we have done anything different?'" Miles asked, but had no answer ready. "We are in the process of doing that; this just happened yesterday."

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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