How Much Will Closing Schools Save?

TMCHFrom the first presentation to the board on June 2, to the last public meeting on June 21, 2011 (the school board had a private meeting with Dr. Richardson, Dr. Pouncey, and one assumes Dr. Wilson on Thursday, June 23, 2011), the most commonly asked and most frequently ignored question was, “What are the actual projected savings for closing each school?”

To this question, Dr. Richardson famously answered Dr. Robinson, that offering those estimates would “just confuse it at this point.” His claim was that these firm numbers could not be made available until after the board had decided which schools to close. At one point at the third public meeting at Johnson, he actual claimed that “no one had asked for the [actual data] before.”

And yes, there was laughter at this statement.

The only numbers that Dr. Richardson was able to produce were general state averages that closing an Elementary school saves $300,000; closing a Middle school saves $500,000; and closing a High school saves $700,000. Offering the board or the public any additional information would only confuse us.

Strangely enough, Dr. Richardson shared with the public on Tuesday, June 21 that Dr. Pouncey would be meeting with the board on Thursday, June 23, 2011 when Dr. Richardson made his final presentation to the board concerning the public meetings, and that Dr. Pouncey would be bringing with him “additional state data to share with the board” concerning the savings associated with closing each of the schools on the list.

More than a week later, this public information that was shared with the board at their private meeting still has not been shared with the public on the Huntsville City Schools website.

In response to the Huntsville Times article that claims that previous school closings resulted in only $25,000 a year in utilities and maintenance savings across three schools: Stone, West Huntsville, and Terry Heights.

All of the personnel were, in accordance with Huntsville City Schools Consolidation policy (101-14), moved to other schools. In fact, the consolidation policy explicitly states that, “Nothing in this policy shall be interpreted to diminish the rights of tenured and non-probationary employees.” Furthermore, in addition to teachers being eligible to transfer to the new consolidated school, Principals, Administrators, and Support Staff may all request transfers to the consolidated school or to another school in the system.

In short, consolidating schools does not result in savings in personnel costs. Richardson regularly claimed that the school closings would result in at least the savings of the salaries of the principal, assistants, secretaries and custodial staff, but there is nothing in the policy nor in the experience of Huntsville City Schools that supports this claim.

Perhaps this is why Dr. Richardson chose not to discuss the School Consolidation Savings report received on June 15th even though he was asked repeatedly on the 16th about the actual savings the system experienced as a result of previous consolidations. Perhaps he knew that this report was about as reliable as the demographer’s report as it shows the majority of the savings from closing West Huntsville, Stone, Terry Heights, East Clinton, and Lincoln are from personnel savings that did not occur.

Not to worry, Dr. Richardson, when the facts don’t support your claims, you should feel free to ignore them. That’s certainly a lesson that our schools should be teaching our children. (Thankfully, they’re not.)

So, assuming that Dr. Richardson was telling the truth that Dr. Pouncey was bringing more specific numbers on the proposed closings to the private meeting with the board on June 23rd, why haven’t those numbers (and the rest of the details from that meeting) been published on the website yet?

According to the Huntsville Times, Dr. Richardson is expected to make another report to the School Board at their next meeting on July 7th. Perhaps then we will see some actual numbers that make sense. I’m planning to be there, live tweeting the meeting @russwinn, but I won’t be holding my breath for answers that actually make sense.

So, how much will closing schools actually save? We could tell you, but it would only confuse you.

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