Questions for HCS Board of Education, Superintendent, and Consultant

Truth is in the details.

— Stephen King, Duma Key

Questions keep me up at night; especially when they involve my kids. Here are some involving Huntsville City Schools, the decisions that are being made about both of my children, and the direction of the HCS Board of Education. As I’ve argued before, questions are important. If you have a child in Huntsville City Schools–even a child who is not affected by the Special Needs changes that the Superintendent is implementing–these questions should be important to you as well, for they deal with issues that affect all of our kids.

  • How many of the approximately 420 people who have already been pink-slipped, directly and regularly interacted or provided services to Special Needs students? Dr. Richardson claimed when making his report that he had not considered Special Education at all in the budget cuts he was recommending. This is a misleading statement. Here are some details we do know: Of the 137 cuts made in the first round, 65 were Instructional Assistants who work with Special education students. In his presentation to the board in April, Richardson recommended the firing of 45 Probationary Support Employees. He recommended the firing of 77 NonProbationary Support Employees. He recommended the cancellation of 216 Contracted Support Personnel. These numbers represent primarily Instructional Aides and Custodial Staff. As he is fully aware, the vast majority (perhaps as high as 100%) of the Instructional Aides, and every single one of the adapted PE teachers who will be released were employed to work with Special Needs students. 338 of the cuts are classified as “Support Personnel.” Thus, potentially 80% of the cuts to personnel have direct impact on Special Needs Children. Until we have the exact numbers, this will be my working assumption. If the board thinks my calculation is too high, I will be happy for them to prove me wrong with specific numbers.
  • Where are the central office cuts? Dr. Moore, Dr. Richardson, and the Board have repeatedly stated that cuts must be made. Dr. Richardson laid our $23 million in cuts to address a $19.5 million deficit, but his plan included not one single cut to the central office. When discussing the cuts that are being made to Special Education, Dr. Moore recently claimed that they had been “overly generous” but offers no evidence supporting this claim as it relates to Special Education. The only area where the claim of “overly generous” applies is to the central office. Yet, the central office is currently facing no cuts. When asked at the end of his presentation about this “oversight,” Dr. Richardson claimed that the central office would face cuts at some point in the future. Here are some details we do know: The Huntsville central office employees 500 people. The Madison County central office employees 11. Madison County has 20% fewer students in it’s system than Huntsville City. Huntsville City has 99.8% more people working in it’s central office.
  • Why won’t Ms. Sledge and Dr. Moore put their segregation plan in writing as Ms. Sledge promised she would on April 6th? I’ve written about this here.
  • Why hasn’t the Board, as they claimed they would do on March 16th, insisted that Ms. Sledge and Dr. Moore present their plan for Board input and approval before they implement their plan? I’ve written about this here and here.
  • Why does the Board need to pay an outsider (Dr. Richardson) to propose a scorched earth approach to the budget crisis they have created? His advice is bad. He isn’t being straightforward in his claims. He’s free to leave as soon as he has collected his check without any accountability for his decisions.
  • Why is Dr. Moore still implementing policy without oversight from the Board even though she was fired twelve months ago?
  • Why is the Board of Education limiting Public Comment and Participation?
  • Why isn’t the Huntsville City Schools’ budget published on the system’s website for public review? Many other Boards publish extensive budget information on their websites. Why doesn’t HCS?
  • Why does Huntsville City Schools have more instances of Mediation and Due Process than any other system in the state? From 2004-2008, Huntsville City Schools had 121 incidents of Dispute Resolution. The next largest number was 93 from Birmingham City Schools. BCS has approximately 3,000 more students than HCS.
  • Finally, why is the central office and the board of education so adverse to transparency in their budget-making, policy-making and implementation? It is reasonable to assume that when someone refuses to share the motivation behind their decisions as Ms. Sledge and Dr. Moore have done that they have something to hide. It is reasonable to assume that when Dr. Richardson hides the specific details of the cuts he is recommending and that the board has approved (like the impact these cuts will have on special education) that they are aware that the cuts are being inordinately placed upon one specific population of the system who had nothing to do with getting us into this financial predicament.

These, and likely many more, are questions that need to be addressed immediately. We the public, the parents, the people who care the most because we live here (unlike consultants from outside) need to insist that the board, and the superintendent answer. The truth is in the details that we must insist our board and superintendent provide.

Those details will, I believe, set our system and our children free.

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

3 Comments

  1. All good questions. I’d add:
    – Why spend money on paving of school parking lots ($160K) and replacement roofs ($370K and $1.2MM) until we even know which schools will stay open?
    – Since the administrators said they would start with cuts that wouldn’t directly impact students, why didn’t they START with cuts in the central office?
    – Why did they need to collaps all resource rooms across the city to only (essentially) two locations? Why not four? Why not eight?
    – Why are there five databases of budget information and why do they not agree with each other?
    – Why does the school system not consult with their CUSTOMERS before they make dramatic changes to the services they provide?

    1. Good ones as always David. I would suspect the 5 databases are intentional to keep one hand from knowing what the other is doing.

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