Teach For America Costs Twice the Reported Amount

HCSBoard Seal

Once again, I underestimated Dr. Wardynski’s brazen commitment to giving public funds back to The Broad Foundation.

On Thursday night, the Superintendent recommended that the board approve the contract with Teach for America. The board, in turn, approved this recommendation. Dr. Robinson, Mr. Blair, and Mr. Birney all voted in favor of the recommendation to hire Teach for America teachers. Mrs. Morrison voted against the recommendation. Although the Board President does not typically vote unless there is a tie, I believe that Mrs. McCaulley also said, “Nay” (although she said this somewhat under her breath).

So what exactly did the board vote to approve on Thursday night? The details of the contract have changed dramatically since the original Teach for America presentation on October 11th. That night, Mr. J. W. Carpenter of TFA presented a plan for the system to hire 110 TFA teachers over a period of three years. I reported, as did the Huntsville Times, that this contract would cost Huntsville City Schools $550,000 for three years, or $5,000 per TFAer.

The Plan Changes

Carpenter said in his presentation that in 2012-2013, the system would hire 30 TFAs, 40 in 2013-2014, and 50 in 2014-2015. I reported that the total cost of hiring these teachers was going to be $5,000 per teacher. The Huntsville Times has also reported this. We were mistaken on two counts.

For some reason, when the contract was presented to the board on November 3rd for the board approval, the superintendent didn’t recommend hiring TFA for just three years, but rather four. The hiring plan presented in the contract was as follows:

  • In 2012-2013, TFA will hire “30 or more” TFA teachers.
  • In 2013-2014, TFA will hire “40 or more” TFA teachers.
  • In 2014-2015, TFA will hire “50 or more” TFA teachers.
  • In 2015-2016, TFA will hire “50 or more” TFA teachers.

No one, not Dr. Wardynski nor any of the board members, bothered to mention that the contract had been altered from three years to four. So while I reported on October 18th that we were hiring 110 TFA teachers, we are in fact hiring 170 TFA teachers.

I asked Dr. Robinson for a reason for the change from a three to a four year contract, and I was told, “The contract was expanded to another year because we need the services for an additional year.”

Dr. Robinson offered no justification for why she believed that the services were needed for even a single year, much less four. There has also been no discussion or justification for the “or more” modification either. It would seem that what our board actually approved on Thursday was to hire a minimum of 170 TFAers for the next four years. I wonder if we’ll ever actually hear an actual total number after the preliminary hiring is completed before the 2012-2013 school year begins? Somehow, I doubt they’ll volunteer the information.

The Big Mistake

So that was one mistake that I made in underestimating Dr. Wardynski’s commitment to Broad Foundation funded programs. The second is actually much larger.

You see, the contract doesn’t actually say that Huntsville City Schools will pay TFA $5,000 per teacher. What the contract actually says is on page 9 is:

With respect to each Teacher whose employment by School District is to commence in the 2012-2013 academic year, School District shall pay Teach For America an annual amount of $5,000.00 for each year in which such Teacher is employed by School District, up to two years from the date such employment is to commence

In other words, we’re not paying Teach for America $5,000 per TFAer. We’re actually paying them them $5,000 per TFAer per year for up to two years.

The cost of this contract just doubled without anyone noticing. The cost of this contract just doubled without anyone on the board or in the central office drawing attention to this.

The Huntsville Times first reported the total cost on October 18th, as being $5,000 per TFAer for–at that time–a total of $550,000 for 110 teachers. They again reported the total cost on November 3rd as being 5,000 per TFAer for a total of $850,000 for 170 teachers.

The actual cost of the Teach for America contract is $1,700,000 for four years, not $850,000 for four years.

And no one in the Superintendent’s office, nor on the board has done anything to correct this misconception in 19 days. Perhaps they didn’t notice it themselves?

Or perhaps they were glad that the total cost was being underestimated by the press and by me.

Dr. Wardynski, Mr. King, Dr. Robinson, Mr. Blair, Mr. Birney, I have just one question for you: If you believe that hiring TFAers is the best possible action for the system to follow to improve student achievement, why are you hiding behind a misconception concerning the costs of the program?

For those keeping track of such things: Dr. Wardynski has now offered The Broad Foundation a $2,110,000 return on the investment made in Dr. Wardynski’s training in five months. No wonder the Foundation is doing so well.


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


  1. The actual cost of the Teach for America contract is $1,700,000 for four years, not $850,000 for four years.

    Not bad for a school system that had a reduction in force and is paying the former Super to sit at home.

  2. How can the total cost of the Contract obligation be calculated if the requirements are stated in terms of minimum quantities (ie “30 or more” or “50 or more”) instead of maximum quantities. Of importance, all of the cost estimates represent the absolute minimal cost, not the potential maximum cost (… and probably not the actual cost). For example, what is the true Contract cost if HCS hired 100 new TFA teachers each year for the next four years? Additionally, to avoid even the “perception” of a potential conflict of interest, there should be a full public disclosure of all financial data and the connections of Contract decision makers to other organizations (Statement of Economic Interests per Alabama Ethics Commission).

  3. Russ,
    I enjoy following your blog and have read it faithfully for several months now. It seems that we were discussing similar issues/frustrations shortly after school began….and now half of the school year is over. He gets worse, his decisions are constantly questionable, and the there has been NO progress. We do “we” as members of this community sign up for citizens comments abs ask these questions directly to W and the Board???? I encourage ALL members of this blog to stand up and speak up. It’s time to take these questions directly to the Board at the next mtg…and any future mtgs. As long as it takes!!!!!

    1. I agree and support that idea. I do not speak at every board meeting for one simple reason: I’m choosing my battles. I would love for the board to be inundated by questions, and asking questions at the board meetings is a great way forward.

      In addition to that, we should regularly call and email the board, and Dr. Wardynski. Ask for meetings with them to discuss these and other issues.

      We should contact the state department of education and state board as well. I’ll get their contact info posted soon.

      Contact local politicians: Wardynski only seems to respond to calls from persons in positions of power, not parents.

      Contact the press. Write letters to the editor, and news directors.

      Finally, JOIN A PTA and get involved in your local school. You do not have to be a parent to join. Concerned neighbors count too.

      There are hundreds of ways to be involved and improve our schools. Find one or two that work for you and run with it.

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