Aide's resignation letter could spell trouble for DISD chief

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on August 29, 2013 at 10:43 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 29 at 10:43 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS — He's already on the hot seat and under investigation. But now, Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Mike Miles is coming under fire over his relationship with school board members.

Sources tell News 8 that external investigators are looking into Miles' role in a former cabinet member's attack on trustees.

DISD Chief of Operations Kevin Smelker came to Dallas from Colorado Springs along with Miles last summer. But after one year on the job, Smelker apparently had had enough.

He resigned on June 20, leaving behind a blistering resignation letter that sources tell News 8 was distributed to trustees with Miles' blessing and at his insistence.

In that letter, Smelker said his departure was due in large part to the meddling of certain unnamed trustees.

"I have never encountered more unsupportive, unprofessional board members than some select ones which I have worked under for the past year," Smelker said in his resignation letter. He spoke of "...board members continually treating staff members in a disdainful and unprofessional manner."

Smelker added: "Not only are the trustees unable to operate appropriately and effectively... some of them also are often hostile and belittling."

While current trustees have declined to talk about the resignation letter, former school board member Bruce Parrott is speaking out. He was Board Secretary when Miles was hired last year.

Parrott said that by authorizing the release of the scathing critique, Miles has, in effect, given his approval of its contents.

"I'd be really upset [if I were still on the Board],” Parrott said. “We have enough to deal with at the district, and then to turn around and have something like this where you are slandering and giving false allegations to board members, because the board members are still his boss."

But sources tell News 8 that Miles did more than just approve Smelker's resignation letter. External investigators are looking into allegations that Miles made sure Smelker had help writing it.

That help came from a private communications expert, Lisa LeMaster, who had recently been awarded a no-bid contract to do communications work for DISD.

LeMaster, who declined an on-camera interview, said Smelker — not Miles — asked her to edit his resignation letter. She says she edited the letter at no charge to the district.

Still, sources say the letter and its origins are a key focus of the external investigation conducted by former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins.

Coggins was hired by trustees to follow up on allegations that Miles interfered with the bid process this past spring, and later tried to quash a resulting internal investigation.

Coggins' report is scheduled to be released in a matter of days. If that document contains evidence that Miles is fostering bad relations with the board, Parrott says the board should take that very seriously.

"You can't continue — for the district to be successful — with somebody that doesn't want to work with the board and doesn't respect them, and that's what it sounds like," Parrott said.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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