By Joshua Benton
For Mike Moses, the business world is not foreign territory. He worked for several private companies during his later years in top public education jobs.
But now the former Dallas superintendent and state education commissioner has made a full-time leap into the world of for-profit education, both as an employee and as an investor.
“Is every problem in education going to be solved within the system?” Dr. Moses asked recently. “When I was superintendent, I thought it was my job to try. But I knew there were people on the outside who can help us.”
Dr. Moses is chairman of the board of the American College of Education, the new for-profit teacher-training effort founded by Dallas businessman Randy Best. He’s also an investor in the company and chairs the operating committee that runs its day-to-day activities. He also sits on the boards of two publicly traded companies.
“I’m doing the same work I’ve been doing, working with teachers and educators,” Dr. Moses said of his new position with ACE. “The perspective has changed maybe a little bit. But I’m still working on things I like to work on.”
When Mr. Best hired Dr. Moses to run ACE, it wasn’t the first time he had sought his services. Mr. Best said he had tried to lure Dr. Moses to Voyager Expanded Learning, his previous education company, when Dr. Moses resigned as state education commissioner in 1999. In the end, Dr. Moses decided not to move to Voyager, instead becoming deputy chancellor of the Texas Tech University System.
Dr. Moses’ relationships with private companies date back to his days in public education. Since the growth of the for-profit education industry in the 1990s, public superintendents doing side work with for-profits have become increasingly common. Many districts ask that superintendents disclose potential conflicts of interest, and Dr. Moses said he always did so.
Although he did not become a full-time Voyager employee, Dr. Moses did work as a consultant for the company while at Texas Tech. He said his role included helping Voyager develop its strategy for reading instruction. “I was paid a nominal consulting fee for that,” he said of the Voyager work. “It was on a very limited basis. It was fully disclosed.”
But it was a point of contention in December 2002, when some Dallas Independent School District trustees raised questions about a new district contract with Voyager. At that point, DISD’s associate superintendent for curriculum was Carmyn Neely, who had spent five years at Voyager.
Dr. Moses responded tersely to the concerns in a memo to trustees. He said both he and Dr. Neely had recused themselves from making any recommendation on the Voyager contract.
“Frankly, if trustees do not want us to avail ourselves of these kinds of materials, I can live with that,” he wrote. “However, any inference that we have not acted properly, legally and ethically in this regard is inaccurate.”
He included with that letter to trustees a memo from district lawyers defending the Voyager purchase. Dallas officials refused to release a copy of that memo, citing attorney-client privilege.
Along with Voyager, Dr. Moses disclosed to trustees four other companies he had worked for while at Texas Tech: the textbook publisher Harcourt, the Internet company Academic Planet, the Texas Association of School Administrators and the financial firm William R. Hough & Co.
“When I left being commissioner of education, I was fortunate that there were a number of people who asked me to serve in different capacities,” he said in a recent interview.
That outside work gave Dr. Moses a substantial income. Hough, for instance, paid him more than $70,000 over 15 months, according to public filings, to assist “in developing business relationships throughout the State of Texas.” Later, during Dr. Moses’ time as superintendent, DISD hired Hough to sell a portion of about $30 million in tax notes for the district.
His employment contract as superintendent allotted him 10 days a year to work for outside companies. Among his clients was the Houston law firm Bracewell & Patterson, which along with its legal work helps Texas districts find new superintendents.
Bracewell & Patterson had done about $7,500 worth of legal work for DISD in the late 1990s. Days after taking office in January 2001, Dr. Moses recommended that trustees give more work to the firm because of its expertise in special-education law and school finance. Over the next three-plus years, DISD paid the law firm about $718,000.
At the time, Dr. Moses denied any conflict of interest regarding either Bracewell or Hough. He ceased his work with Bracewell once The Dallas Morning News wrote about it.
Dallas trustee Hollis Brashear said that Dr. Moses did not hide his business relationships from the board. “Dr. Moses had a pretty illustrious career, and it would make sense for him to be sought out as a consultant,” he said. “That would not raise a flag for us.”
Dr. Moses declined to say what he was being paid in his new role as chairman of the ACE board.
As a private citizen, his compensation is his own business, so it is difficult to know how it compares with the $341,000 he earned as one of the highest paid superintendents in the country.
Along with his work at ACE, Dr. Moses now sits on the boards of two publicly traded companies.
Dr. Moses joined the board of Trammell Crow, a commercial real estate company, four weeks after leaving the superintendency. Dr. Moses is paid about $80,000 in cash and stock for his work each year, according to public filings. A Dallas spokesman said the district has no business relationships with Trammell Crow.
Dr. Moses also gets paid at least $17,000 for sitting on the board of SWS Group, which, primarily under the name Southwest Securities, helps school districts, including DISD, sell construction bonds.
Southwest Securities began doing work for DISD well before Dr. Moses joined the district in 2000, and that work has continued.