Consultant’s Bad Advice to the Huntsville City School Board at their Secret Meeting

So it seems that playing in a park with the kids at the beginning of an abbreviated spring break isn’t a good idea for someone trying to work with the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education these days. One must be constantly vigilant or else risk missing out on the “secret” meetings the Board decides to call.

Yesterday afternoon, our School Board met with Dr. Ed Richardson, the special consultant they have hired to give themselves political cover, at the Sun Room of the Holiday Inn in Downtown Huntsville. According to the Board President, Topper Birney, “We cannot do business in private, but this was not a business meeting. This was giving us some information on what changes we had to make. No decisions were made I promise you that.” Am I the only one who doesn’t feel comfortable accepting Mr. Birney’s promise right now?

Either way, I find it astonishing that the school board, whose credibility is at an all time low, would take such a risky step of so clearly violating the law, regardless of what Mr. Brooks, the board’s attorney, claims. Here’s a copy of the Alabama Open Meetings Law. Take a look at it and see if you think this meeting was a meeting or not.

But regardless of the legality of this meeting, the real question for parents who have children in the system is the questionable advice that the board is receiving from Dr. Richardson. Thanks to the excellent reporting Crystal Bonvillian of the Huntsville Times, we have a record of the following statements that were made about the secret meeting:

Richardson also said he wanted to stress to board members to allow the superintendent or a designated board spokesman, like the board president, to address issues publicly.

“These should be the only two who speak for the board,” Richardson said. “That way you don’t have board members speaking out with limited information, or portraying a lack of trust among each other.” [Emphasis Added]

So, according to Dr. Richardson, the only speakers for the board should be the Superintendent, or possibly the board president. No other member of the board should make a public statement. Thus, Dr. Richardson wishes to increase the power and influence of the HCS Superintendent in the future. No longer should the board members speak their opinions to the public.

Funny, I thought the board was made up of elected officials who should be responsive to the public. Please tell me we are not paying for this advice.

Dr. Richardson’s excellent advice continues:

Another focus was on how board members obtain data from system employees. Richardson said the board should get that information from the superintendent or her designee instead of going directly to a principal or other school system employee.

“If the board members are calling those in the ranks, it undermines the superintendent and you don’t have trust,” Richardson said. “And employees have confusion over who they work for.” [Emphasis Added]

Let me see if I can help the superintendent, the board, everyone in the central office, including Mrs. Amy Sledge, and Dr. Richardson understand who they work for. I’m going to try and be polite, so respectfully, they work for us.

Their job, the reason that they are being paid, is to help the community educate our students. Respectfully, if they allow Dr. Richardson’s recommendations to become board policy, they are only perpetuating the same processes that have currently placed our system 20 million dollars in debt. The reason we are in dire straits right now is because the board abdicated their responsibility in supervising the superintendent. Relinquishing their ability to question the directors of divisions in the central office will allow the future superintendent to continue to shelter her or his employees as Dr. Moore has done so for Mrs. Sledge.

This is not acceptable.

To accomplish their job to educate our students, the board and the central office must involve the community not an outsider who has no stake in the outcome of his recommendations. They should especially involve the parents of the students they are attempting to educate. What they absolutely must not do is exclude the people who pay their salaries from discussions of plans about how to best education our children.

Frankly, if the board wanted to have a secret meeting with someone yesterday, it should have been with the parents of the students they’re responsible for to discussion the segregation plans that are currently being implemented in our city.

An appointed official who, even after being fired, still has the ability to abuse our school system, our teachers, and our students, does not need any more power or influence. We elected the board to represent us. They cannot do that by remaining silent and refusing to question questionable activities and decisions made by the central office.

That, Dr. Richardson, is what is unacceptable.


"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. I realize that we are not dealing with the same type of situations, but I understand your frustration. The last time I had to deal with our school board, I received an e-mail from my elected district representative that said (and I quote) “My job is to represent the wishes of the [unelected] superintendent.” Needless to say, my reply to her indicated that she had entirely failed to grasp the gist of her job, and that I wasn’t terrifically happy that such an idiot had managed to get elected!

    Sorry you’re facing such an uphill battle – keep up the good fight!

    1. People abusing power is people abusing power regardless of the details. It’s depressing, but still helpful to know that others have faced similar issues.

      Thanks! You too! 🙂

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