The Short Season of Howard Miller 

School district’s No. 2 departs as suddenly as he arrived

Wednesday, Jun 21 2000

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“I think it was a brilliant plan,” commented board member David Tokofsky, a friend and admirer of Miller, “but he didn’t line up the people on the ground you need to have supporting you.”

Board member Victoria Castro, a Miller critic, offered a harsher interpretation: “Miller went out there with this ‘brilliant idea’ without doing his homework. And there have been other incidents like that, where Miller ends up having to retract. Like when he said the old Terminal Annex was the solution for a school in the Belmont area. As soon as it was announced, I started to get environmental reports about how bad that site was. I want to say, ‘How come you don’t know that, Miller?‘ We’ve lost time, and time is money. And it‘s also a loss of services to children. To me, that’s very serious.”

Miller did not, in fact, fail on all fronts. He reaped a clear dividend from his much-criticized decision to hire the Army Corps of Engineers. The corps prepared federal applications to update wiring at schools, and as a result, the district will be eligible to collect more than $400 million in funding to connect schools to the Internet. Board member Tokofsky also credits Miller with vastly improving the district contracting process.

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But Miller sometimes frustrated even his allies. “I have less information and less of an ability to follow what the school district is doing than I did with the previous administration,” complained David Abel, a member of the oversight committee on local school-bond spending and a person who strongly supported the hiring of Miller. “It‘s very hard for us to judge what progress, if any, we’ve made.”

All of which leaves open the question of who provided the tutorial on Miller for new Superintendent Romer. His comment, about Miller having 1,000 ideas but not following through, was reported to the Weekly from a reliable source who heard the comment. And it was reportedly delivered by Romer with the air of conventional wisdom -- in that arena, conventional wisdom usually emanates from members of the school-board majority, the mayor or those in Riordan‘s close circle, such as UCLA management guru Bill Ouchi or billionaire businessman Eli Broad.

Evidently, some in that group would agree with Miller’s own analysis: “This is a good point for the district to move on. I don‘t in any sense regard myself as indispensable to the success of the school district.”

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