Lost Faith: We Don’t Even Know How Much We Owe

You really can’t make this stuff up.

So at the third of five of the School Closing meetings, Dr. Richardson was asked a question concerning how Huntsville City Schools got into the financial mess that we’re in. The questioner implied that perhaps it had something to do with the rapid expansion of new schools for new subdivisions. (Something that David Slaton wrote about here early yesterday morning.) Dr. Richardson’s reply was jaw-dropping.

He said that first the three years of extended proration in the state had been a major contributing factor to our deficit. He claimed, “I’ve never seen a worse period.” He’s right about this; the state cuts have been significant.

He followed this up by saying that he was again going to make a presentation to the board on Thursday night concerning the system’s transportation costs that he believed would save approximately $1.2 million dollars. As this supposedly won’t result in any additional layoffs, this could be good news.

Finally, Dr. Richardson dropped this bombshell:

“And we’ve discovered that there is a problem in the coding of special education students that the state is allowing us to correct. This coding error has resulted in an overestimate of approximately $3 million dollars. So, the deficit that we thought was $18.5 million is actually only $15.5 million.”

Let’s let that sink in for a moment before moving on.

Dr. Richardson has been employed by the Board at the behest of the state department of education since February 8, 2011 at a rate of $600.00 per day. We have, according to records that have been published online, paid Richardson, $12,445.91 for work done in the months of February and March for primarily one reason: to help guide the system out of the financial hole that we’re in.

Don’t you think that the absolute first step a consultant hired to fill that hole might want to figure out is exactly how much money we actually owe?

Nope, not in Huntsville. In Huntsville, the first step taken (after the hiring of a consultant for political cover) is to fire the teachers and the aides (many of aides making barely above minimum wage) who are busting their asses every day to educate our children. But, oh no, it doesn’t end there.

The next step is to pass a board resolution on April 21, 2011 as moved by Dr. Robinson and seconded by Mr. Blair that the system adopt a freeze for the 2011-2012 school year in the step raises offered to teachers and employees of the system. Rather than do a little research, the consultant recommends and the board follows along with further attacks upon our demoralized teaching corps. No raises for our existing teachers, whom are all frankly just feeling lucky to still have a job.

Again, you’d think that the consultant, after disrupting classes, and firing teachers and support personnel by the hundreds, might then want to figure out exactly how much the deficit actually is.

Sadly, again, you’d be mistaken.

No, the next step after that round of attacks is to reduce the amount that we will offer new certified teachers to not one penny above the state minimum thus further reducing the system’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified teachers. Once again, rather than actually examining the books to see exactly how much the system is in debt, we first have to decimate the system’s ability to hire for our students the state’s best teachers.

Clearly by this point even this board and this consultant would actually take the time to examine the books to see how bad the picture is and how many more cuts might be necessary to keep the dreaded “STATE” from coming in to take over.

Ha! You don’t seriously believe that they would stop once they got started do you?

Nope, not even that was enough. In addition to these cuts, what else might they rip apart? Hmmmmm. I know, they’ll segregate all of our special needs students into one (oh wait, the parents found out and are upset) scratch that, two schools. Don’t worry if they’re violating Federal Law by doing so. Forget that they’re forcing drastic and dramatic changes on the one part of our student population least capable of handling them, we’re saving money! That’s all that matters because clearly the system is in trouble financially. That’s indisputable.

The cuts don’t even slow down until the announcement of cuts to the schools themselves.

So the consultant recommends, upon the basis of a $75,000 demographer’s report, that the system must close 21% of its schools. And that these school closings must be based solely upon one seriously flawed, overpriced report that contains not one single financial justification to support the closings.

(Dr. Richardson was incorrect when he claimed tonight that “No one has asked for” specific figures concerning how much closing a school might actually save the city. Dr. Robinson asked him that question directly on June 2, 2011. You can watch Dr. Richardson’s response to Dr. Robinson for yourself at about the 46 minute mark of the video posted on the HCS website.)

After taking a scorched earth approach to dealing with this CRISIS, Dr. Richardson finally realizes 15 days before he’s set to ride off into the sunset that, oh guess what, the hole isn’t as deep as we thought. He found an additional $3,000,000 hiding in the books as a result of a coding error. This is great news.

And they actually looked surprised when I told them that they had lost our faith last Thursday.

All discussions of cuts, freezes, layoffs, pink-slipping, segregating and especially school closings must cease and desist until Dr. Richardson and the Board have actually provided to the public the exact figures and data that shows precisely how large or small the deficit is.

If you don’t even know how deep a hole is, you’ll never know how hard you have to work to fill it. Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

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


  1. I guess I have missed something here. They want to close Monte Sano and send our children to Blossomwood. And they want to cut transportation. How are the kids going to get there? Teleportation?

    1. There is no comprehensive plan. These are a bunch of stop gap measures without looking at the whole picture. You’re question is a valid one. (Teleportation indeed!)

      As I understand it, the cuts to transportation are limited to the monitors who ride on the bus to watch the students. Currently we have 55 monitors, Richardson wants to cut that to 10.

      Also, he recommended that the buses run two rather than just one route as, according to him, two routes may be run as cheaply as one.

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