New Standard for Evaluation in HCS: We’re Not Being Sued

2012 Budget HearingsOn Thursday, I had the opportunity to speak with my board member, Dr. Jennesse Robinson, concerning the data that I had shared with her and the board a week before that shows that the system has cut seven million dollars from the Special Education Budget from FY2011 to FY2012.

One of the best reasons for attending the board meetings is to gain access to the board. It’s easy for the members to ignore emails and phone calls; it’s much harder for them to do so when you’re standing face to face.

Dr. Robinson shared with me that Dr. Wardynski and Mr. Spinelli are planning to make a presentation concerning “special education costs at the November work session.” She stated that, “They will not have the budget actuals back from the state until then.” She claimed that the discrepancy between the FY 2011 figures and the FY 2012 budget is a difference between “budgeted numbers and actual expenses.”

This is an interesting claim, isn’t it?

First, the focus of the November work session will be on “special education costs” rather than differences between the budgets for FY 2011 and FY 2012. They will, in other words, be attempting to re-direct attention away from their own actions.

Also of great interest in her response is the following statement: “They will not have the budget actuals back from the state until then.” This is interesting as it implies that we receive our education budget from the state. This is not the case. We send our budget to the state. So, frankly, they have these numbers already. They just don’t want to deal with the numbers until they’ve had yet another two months to construct a response that they can spin to their advantage.

Finally, she told me that the seven million dollar difference is the result of a “difference between budgeted numbers and actual expenses.”

If we spent seven million more in FY 2011 than we have budgeted in FY 2012, then we are expecting to save seven million dollars from last year to this year. As we are expecting to save a total of 11.6 million dollars from FY 2011 to FY 2012, then special education is responsible for 61% of the cuts from FY 2011 to FY 2012, even if the discrepancy is the result of the “difference between budgeted numbers and actual expenses.”

I suppose we’ll have to wait until November before the board addresses questions about the budget that they unanimously approved on September 8th after spending all of about an hour and a half discussing it. (They held two meetings of about 45 minutes each. These meetings offered time for basically one public question each night. They rushed this budget to press so that people would not have the opportunity to ask questions about it before passage.)

So it will take two months to get a comparison the previous year’s budget to the coming year’s budget. This is information that should have been included in Mr. Spinelli’s initial report, but wasn’t. It was information that has in the past been included in the report that the CSFO offered to the board. (Of course, that report was developed by Dr. Wheeler who recently accepted a buyout of $61,000 because the board doesn’t want to fight to prove that they had cause for laying him off.)

Perhaps the reason that Dr. Robinson isn’t concerned about it taking two months to get a comparison between the FY 2011 and FY 2012 budgets is that she’s convinced that the system is meeting the requirements of the IEPs. In a brief conversation that I had with her after Thursday’s board meeting, she said that she knew that the system was meeting the requirements of the IEPs because the system isn’t being sued.

Let’s let that settle in for a moment.

Our board knows that our children are being educated because they’re not currently being sued for failing to do so. (I am aware of a number of lawsuit that are currently in process. The legal process takes time, as Dr. Robinson should know.)

But really don’t you think our standards need to be a little bit higher there? Shouldn’t we expect our board members to hold the system that they are charged with managing and overseeing to a higher standard than, “we’re not being sued?”

For the record, no, the system is not meeting IEPs, but the only standard that matters to the board and others in the central office (like Amy Sledge who explicitly told me that if parents didn’t like the consolidation plan that they could pursue mediation and due process) is are we currently being sued?

They’re not concerned if the cuts are fair, equal or just. (They’re not.)

They’re not concerned if our students are receiving an education. (They’re not receiving the same level as they were a year ago when class sizes were smaller and we had enough aides and therapists to actually educate our children rather than simply babysit them.)

They’re not concerned if our students are in classrooms sufficiently staffed to even keep them safe.

They’re only concerned when they’re being sued.

So the board of the most sued school system in the state is basically encouraging parents to sue them more.

But here’s the main issue: As I have written before, Alabama State Code Section 16-39-3 states:

Each school board shall provide not less than 12 consecutive years of appropriate instruction and special services for exceptional children, beginning with those six years of age, in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. Such public school instruction and special services shall be made available at public expense for each school year to exceptional children as provided herein. The funds for such instruction and special services shall be derived from state, county, municipal, district, federal or other sources or combinations of sources. Each school board shall set aside from its revenues from all such sources such amounts as are needed to carry out the provisions of this chapter, if such funds are available without impairment of regular classes and services provided for nonexceptional children. If sufficient funds are not available to a school board to provide fully for all the provisions of this chapter as well as the educational needs of nonexceptional children, such board must prorate all funds on a per capita basis between exceptional and nonexceptional children. No matriculation or tuition fees or other fees or charges shall be required or asked of exceptional children or their parents or guardians, except such fees or charges as may be charged uniformly of all public school pupils.

In short, this code explicitly states that when faced with proration, the school board must enact such proration on a “per capita basis,” which means, an equal share is given to each. Since their own numbers show that the majority of the cuts have been made to special education, they are in violation of the law. By bringing this to their attention, again and again, I am attempting to get them to address the problem before they have to pay Mr. Brooks more money to defend their illegal actions. They are refusing to do so.

As Dr. Robinson should be well aware, there are thousands of reasons to avoid filing a law suit. One of the main reasons is simply the cost of doing so. A law suit takes our much needed and extremely limited resources away from our children and their education. In a very real sense, as tax payers, when we sue a public organization, we are actually suing ourselves.

Parents do not want to sue our school system. It would be nice if our board members and central office staff would stop daring them to do so.

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


  1. “Parents do not want to sue our school system. It would be nice if our board members and central office staff would stop daring them to do so.”

    This is what they do because this is who they are. Funny thing is, parents tax dollars pay the very school Board Attorney they are fighting against. So it’s a win win….for the lawyers, for the parents and students…not so much.

    1. I agree, but since our board members work for us, and not for Mr. Brooks, they should be looking out for the interests of the kids, not the lawyers.

      1. Mr. Brooks works for us too since he is hired by the people we hired to represent us. So in essence we are paying someone to fight against us.

  2. This school board defies description. The,y namely Robinson, Blair and Birney (business interesst in the city); McCaulley – who knows where she stands? – and Alta Morrison who truly would like to do the right thing but essentially has no one to work with. It’s very hard for her for she’s all alone.

    The same Board that got us into the $20 million debt, by luck or by fate, ended up getting to hand-pick the superintendent – a man not qualified for the job and who has spent over $600,000 dollars bringing in new staff, three from Aurora, Colorada which itself is $25 million in debt – and others, many with degrees NOT from bone fide colleges. Wardynski himself did not get his “doctorate” from a bone fide college or university, rather from Rand Institute a 2-year academy that grinds out degrees without having participants do hard-core college course work, essentials teachers must lay on the table before being hired.

    Have you seen what’s required to be a superintendent in Alabama? Be prepared to roll in the floor with laughter.

    My real problem is: who do we appeal to when we see a problem with the board? The superintedent? He’s one of them. Board members? Alta Morrison is it. Who do parents, and concerned citizens go to when they know there’s questionable actions going on with that bunch? Jennie Robinson spent over $60,000 donated by Home Builders Association, Committee of 100, Chamber of Commerce, etc. and won by only 101 votes out 5600 cast. She’ll hopefully and, thank God, be gone someday, but in the meantime who do we appeal to when there’s a problem?

    We need an oversight committee made up of educated, solid citizens, including board members from the good old days, Ed Starnes, Martha Miller, Robert Lorren, Tony Reynolds, to watch their every move.

  3. I have little to say. I feel insulted with the board. They have basically stated that you cannot hire an college graduate with a high GPA from any local colleges in Alabama. There are several well respected have colleges and universities in Alabama. They maintains contact and recommendation system free of charge. You request a certain range of GPA. This service is offered free of charge. With TFA the school system must pay a $5,000 finders fee, then after the teacher works 2 years, they pay off her student loans. Sweet deal since the student got her degree in Accounting, Business Math, Biology Tech, Political Science, Electrical Engineer…etc…And these workers want to bring their skills into an elementary classroom to teach the basic cored academics. They are recent grads that have been unable to secure a job in the field they are qualified in, so they choose to take up TFA on their offer and work for them for 2 years and get shier loans paid off. Then they will probably look for a job within the field they are trained that provides much more money. It is ridiculous and I believe anyone with just a little business background can see that paying a company $5,000 to interview and get a background check on a prospective teacher is ridiculous. We have the employees and facilities. Teach for America was designed to encourage good teachers to go out into the areas no one wanted. The high crime city areas. Huntsville is not one of these areas. Think things through. Talk to teachers. Allow them to respond anonymously. Our salary has been frozen for 3 years including cost of living and our benefits have risen. The central office wants better scores, better teachers, but they withdrawn all our intervention and aids. Its February people! Where are the 10 Professional Math Tutors???

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