Balancing the Budget on the Backs of Kids

2012 Budget Hearings

Last night, by an unanimous vote, the board approved the 2012 budget. The budget had to be presented to the state by September 15th, so they moved the called board meeting to after the budget hearing, added the approval of the budget to the agenda, and then approved it after taking just a single question from the public which was, “Could I get a copy of the final budget?”

The copied one that had been shared was missing a few of the slides. Mr. Spinelli promptly and generously gave the member of the public his copy. (As an aside, I had a pleasant conversation with Mr. Spinelli after the board meeting. Generous is an appropriate adjective; he was quite generous with his time with me after the meeting. Welcome to Huntsville, Mr. Spinelli, and excellent work preparing this budget in such a short amount of time. It was an impressive feat.)

The budget hearing was quite interesting. It seemed to me that much of the discussion and presentation was a direct response to my blog that I published about 30 minutes before the meeting began. (I know that seems conceited of me, but bear with me for a moment.) When Mr. Spinelli was taking the board through the budget for the second time and he got to the revenue section, he pointed out that part of the special education funding was coming from the federal government and that the actual budgeted amount for special education was nearly $20 million rather than the $14 million that I wrote about yesterday.

So yesterday at 4:30pm, I wrote that the 2011 budget called for $19.8 million for special education. Then at about 5:15pm during the budget hearing, Dr. Wardynski and Mr. Spinelli make a point of saying that this year our special education budget is $20 million. The actual numbers are as follows:

  • $14,163,983 in instructional expenditures for special education in 2012
  • $4,927,081 in federal funding from IDEA-B funds for 2012
  • Thus, the total expenditures for special education for 2012 is $19,091,064. Let’s just call it $20 million.

So, everything that I wrote yesterday is pointless, right? We’re actually spending almost the exact same amount as last year. Right? What was I complaining about?

Well it’s completely true that the IDEA-B law is providing almost $5 million in funding for special education. But the thing that neither Dr. Wardynski nor Mr. Spinelli shared with us or the board last night was that the federal funding for special education in 2011 was almost exactly the same.

In 2011, as you can see in the chart below, the federal government sent $4,923,331 to Huntsville City Schools for special education funding.

Budget Hearing FY11 IDEA Funding

So, yesterday, I asked about our priorities based on the reduction in funding for instruction and the reduction in funding for special education in particular. Dr. Wardynski implied that there wasn’t a reduction in funding by claiming that the 2012 budget calls for $20 million in federal and local spending.

But, as you can see, the reduction in funding is still there, because the 2011 budget included $5 million in federal funding as well. The 2012 budget, that the board approved last night, still shows a reduction in funding of at least $3.5 million dollars from 2011 (assuming that I should include the gifted eduction funding so that I’m comparing apples to apples).

So did they structure the discussion in the budget hearing in response to my post? Who knows, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they have approved a budget that cuts instruction by $6 million. What matters is that they have approved a budget that cuts special education by $3.5 million.

The superintendent and the board have recommended and approved a budget that calls on special education to be responsible for 30% of the total savings in 2012. The superintendent and the board have begun to balance the budget on the backs of special needs kids.


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


  1. Slightly off subject, but still technically falls under the subject of Budget: I am just curious, how many empty schools to we have sitting vacant, what is being spent on the utilities/upkeep/maintenance on these vacant buildings, what is the estimated value of these buildings?

    Furthermore, what is being. done to try and liquidate these assets, and put money back into the school system, decreasing the Deficit, and ultimately freeing up funds for Education?

    It just seems to me, from a business standpoint, if you have “X” amount of dollars in debt, and “X” amount of dollars in dormant Assets… That a primary focus would be pursuing active buyers for these Assets (which “APPEAR” to be entrusted to local Realtors only.).

    Has the school system approached the other Educational Institutions in Huntsville (i.e. UAH, Trade Schools, etc) to lease and/or purchase these locations for further expanding their Campuses (some of which are in desperate need of additional

    1. I believe there are four schools that are currently empty and awaiting sale.
      Stone Middle School, Lincoln Elementary, Terry Heights Elementary, and West Huntsville Elementary.

      Of those only two have current offers/proposals on the table for usage. West Huntsville will be partly used to house the Free 2 Teach program I wrote about last week, and Dr. Wardynski announced Thursday that he had received an offer from the VA for Stone to open a VA hospital in at least part of the building (allowing the other part to be sold off to retail interests.)

      As far as the cost goes, I believe that during the school closing meetings in June that the estimates were around $100k for maintenance, utilities, insurance, etc per year.

      I believe that they are seeking buyers, but there are a limited number of uses that a vacant school building can be put. The impression that Richardson continually offered during the school closing meetings (again, how much money did we waste on that?), was that there were many obstacles to reaching a deal. (The state controls the selling price which is tied to the estimated value of the building.)

    2. Huntsville City Schools was contacted by Whitesburg Christian Academy indicating their interest in purchasing either Whitesburg Elementary or Middle school. They were informed that HCS was not interested in selling either property to them.

  2. (cont’d) … Additional classroom space and/or Satellite Campuses??

    Also, has the Board examined the possibilty of consolidating all Special Needs programs to ONE of these vacant facilities, thus allowing the facility to be remodeled/catered to the needs of these children? (Essentially one large Handicapped-Accessible Facility, for lack of better wording…)

    Just thinking here…..

    1. I don’t know if they have or not, but I for one, would oppose further consolidations of special education kids. (They’ve already consolidated student who spend the majority of their day in a resource room into basically 3 schools, AAA, Challenger, and Hampton Cove Middle.)

      First, all of our schools are handicapped-accessible. Now, some are better than others in the services they offer, but they’re all accessible.

      Second, consolidation means that we are taking students out of the general population. Students with autism greatly benefit from being around non-autistic children. (How else does a child learn to interact socially, which is often the primary issue they face?)

      Third, non-special needs kids need to learn to interact with children who are different. One of the primary goals of education is to learn to interact with those who are different.

      So, while I imagine it’s something that has been discussed, I don’t believe it’s a good idea for either special needs kids or the community as a whole.

      1. Got it! Didn’t know a lot about that (and Autism), but I’m learning!! I was just kind of “brainstorming”….. 🙂 Dusty

      2. It’s funny, though… I sat on the couch and watched movies all day the other day when it was raining (and cried like a WOMAN, according to my wife…LOL)…

        One of the ones that I watched and hadn’t seen in years was “RADIO” with Cuba Gooding, Jr…

        In hindsight (although it’s only a MOVIE, and based loosely on a true story..), even though Radio didn’t have Autism, he did seem to get a lot better Socially and come out of his “shell” when being around other regular kids at the school….

  3. Have you ever visited the special needs high school in Decatur? It is a wonderful place!!! They have everything a regular high school has and the students are able to participate in many activities that special needs students usually are not given the oppertunity to be a part of. They have a basketball team, a band, a cheerleading squad, and many other extracurricular activities and sports. They also have their own gym and auditorium. I went over for a basketball game and they had a half time show. I was great! There is a regular high school on the same campus and those students come over and work with the special needs students. It’s a really great set up. I agree that special needs students need to be included with thier non disabled peers, and I think this is happening in Decatur without minimizing the specialized instruction and services that greatly improve these students quality of life.

    1. Stone would be the perfect location to implement the kind of program they have in Decatur it is centrally located between Huntsville High and Butler. Students from both high schools could come over and work with the special needs students. They could even have a drama department. The possibilites for these students would be endless.

    2. No, I haven’t visited it, but it does sound interesting. High school is a different can of worms, and it’s possible that by the time we get there (my boy’s in kindergarten right now) that having a separate school might look really good to me. I have friends who worry regularly about sending their kids to the high schools.

      I think, though that there’s a good chance that the VA will purchase Stone. (Dr. Wardynski seemed sure enough to discuss it on Thursday.)

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to write!

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