Repeating Patterns and Special Education


On Thursday, November 17th,  Mr. Aaron King offered an updated report on Special Education to the report that he and Dr. Wardynski presented back in August. While you may not have a child who is discussed in this report,  HCS students who have an IEP represent about 11% of the Huntsville City Schools population, what happens to the special education students should matter to you. The system seems to have a pattern of testing its implementation of procedures on the special needs kids before applying them to other segments of the population.

Closing services offered at schools, moving students, cutting teachers, aides and therapists, all of these methods of “saving money” were all trial tested on the Special Education population before they began doing the same thing to other groups.

The central office’s pattern of making decisions without involving parents or the public in any way is also a process that has been used with Special Education long before it was used with other groups. Thus, it pays to notice what they are doing with special education kids even if you don’t have one yourself.

Continuing this pattern on the 17th, Mr. King, who as far as I have been made aware has absolutely no previous experience working with or evaluating special education programs (he was a high school chemistry teacher in Madison Co., Mississippi before coming here as Dr. Wardynski’s aide) has been placed in charge of evaluating and assessing the special education services, IEPs and teachers in Huntsville City. Again, this is following a pattern with our school system. Experience is seen as a detriment or as an obstacle to be overcome. So rather than taking advantage of the extensive years of experience that our system has in working with IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Dr. Wardynski has handed this over to his Director of Transition.

Repeating Patterns

This is a similar pattern to the way that Dr. Wardynski is handling the re-naming of Lee High School. It’s the way that he’s handling the consolidations of Mt. Gap, Whitesburg, and Chapman elementary and middle schools into P-8s. The pattern of replacing experienced personnel with unexperienced personnel is the primary issue that I have with the Teach for America decision.

But this is Dr. Wardynski’s pattern. Experience doesn’t matter to him simply because he doesn’t have any.

The pattern is to avoid parental involvement or input in the decision making process. While I certainly understand where Dr. Wardynski learned this pattern, in the military people follow orders or they die, a public school system is not the military. If the system excludes parental input, as they have done repeatedly, the school system will die.

As such, it’s crucial to involve parents in the decision making process. Dr. Wardynski claims on a regular basis that he wants this, but his actions and decision making process exclude parents. And ultimately, it is our actions that speak the loudest.

So what exactly have been the superintendent’s actions that we can learn from.

A Statement of Priorities

The superintendent has cut special education funding from FY2011 to FY2012 by $7,173,863.74. This is not an estimate. This is not a guess. These numbers are Dr. Wardynski’s and Mr. Spinelli’s numbers that they grudgingly provided when I asked for a report from them two and a half months ago. (I say grudgingly because Mr. Spinelli delayed providing these numbers to me by 15 days. When they finally sent me the numbers, they sent me the raw data in an Adobe Acrobat file without any totals. I suppose it’s a good thing I know how to import information into a usable format. Education is a wonderful gift, isn’t it?)

After I uncovered the seven million dollar in cuts that represent 61 percent of the total systemwide cuts from FY2011 to FY2012, I contacted Dr. Jennie Robinson seeking her assistance as my board representative in eliciting an explanation from Dr. Wardynski and Mr. Spinelli. This is the approach that the board prefers in handling these types of issues. If you have an issue, they ask that you contact them in private, and so I did. Dr. Robinson responded to my request for the board to discuss this at a board meeting on September 29th. I wrote about this back in October. In an email, she stated:

I followed up on this with Dr. W and Mr. Spinelli after the meeting today. They said that they are going to do a formal presentation on special ed costs at the November work session. They will not have all budget actuals back from the state until then. They also said that the discrepancy is not totally in the coding errors (although that does contribute a little bit) but in the difference between budgeted numbers and  actual expenses.

So you should have your answers in November.

The Special Education Report

This brings us to the November 17th meeting. The presentation that Mr. King offered was an updated version of the presentation that Dr. Wardynski offered on August 4th. For some reason, Dr. Wardynski did not want to follow up his presentation from that night. He chose to pass it off to his aide. The primary changes in the report include changes in the numbers of Instructional Assistants, and the addition of 1.5 Occupational Therapists.

In addition the report includes information on Dr. Wardynski’s moving 23.5 Special Education workers out of the Merts Office and into the schools. The claim was that this move:

  1. Eliminates the drive time from the Merts Center and therefore reduces the milage expenses incurred by the individuals and the district.
  2. Establishes more time for interaction with students and educators.
  3. Provides more personnel in the schools to help manage and mitigate problems.

These all seem like reasonable benefits until you realize that there are 18 schools with autism units and 2 autism specialist who are placed at AAA and Challenger. In other words, there are 16 autism units that these two autism specialist will still have to cover and assist. Will they be driving from Merts? No, but they are still driving from AAA and Challenger to the other 16 schools.

Travel costs haven’t been eliminated, they’ve just been moved out of the Merts cost center and onto the individual schools. Interestingly enough, shortly after the Special Education update report, Mr. Spinelli offered a financial report that showed that the administrative expenditures were 3.4% of the budget, which they claimed were well below the state average of either 4.0% or 4.5% (they used both numbers). Is it possible that the transfer of personnel out of Merts an into the schools was simply to make it appear that the administrative costs were lower than they actually are?

Somehow, I think that might be the case.

Also, can anyone explain why you would place an Elementary Collaborative Coordinator at Huntsville High School? Or what about placing another one at Grissom High? Wouldn’t it make much more sense for the Elementary Collaborative Coordinator to be at an elementary school? At least they were successful at placing the middle school coordinators at middle schools.

Perhaps Mr. King, who appears to be in charge of the special education services at this point was confused? Nah, surely he had a good reason for doing this. Right?

Former Merts Personnel.jpg

District Plans for Equity

So what does Mr. King recommend that we do with the data he presented to the board? For that, we’ll need to examine the following slide:

District Plans.jpg

I wonder: How exactly is someone with Mr. King’s limited experience going to “ensure that services are allocated and provided based on legitimate needs as determined by the IEP team?” Is he planning to examine the work of the IEP team and determine that some needs just simply are not “legitimate?” What exactly is he planning to base his evaluation of legitimacy on? Has he worked with Special Needs students for years? Does he have any formal training in identifying legitimate needs for special services? If so, I would love to hear about them, but I suspect that this is similar to all those excellent TFA studies that Dr. Wardynski keeps mentioning in defense of the excellent quality of TFA’ers when compared with teachers who are actually trained. Isn’t it funny how he never calls these studies by name? I suppose we should just trust him and Mr. King.

So, who is going to be establishing “the proper protocols to ensure that the IEP process is equitable across the district?”

Since it would seem that Mr. King is unaware, the “I” in IEP stands for an Individualized. This means that equitability across the district is not to be taken into consideration. If you’re focused on “equitability,” the “individualized” part is tossed out the window. Again, experience matters.

Where’s the Discussion of the Seven Million?

So what’s missing from this presentation? You guessed it: neither Mr. King, Mr. Spinelli, Dr. Wardynski, nor anyone on the board raised any discussion of the seven million dollars that was cut from Special Education from FY2011 to FY2012. The only discussion of funding decisions was Dr. Robinson expressing astonishment that Mr. Spinelli and Dr. Wardynski were able to show during the presentation of the 2011 Financial Statements that the general fund now has an operational surplus of $3.4 million dollars. She actually asked, “How were you able to do this?” I suppose that she had forgotten about the two reductions in force that she voted for in February and April.

I suppose she had forgotten about the report that I had shared with her two months earlier that showed that the special education budget had been cut by seven million.

The only mention of this reduction in funding came when I asked about it during the public comments.

No one offered any response.

So, per the boards request, I wrote Dr. Robinson privately again on Friday of last week asking her again as my board member to request a specific response to my concerns about the seven million dollar reduction in special education funding.

She has not responded to my email. I suppose that she didn’t receive it.

So, tomorrow night at the board meeting, I will stand to ask again why the Special Education funding has been cut by seven million dollars. It will probably be a fruitless exercise as the board seems happy to balance their books on the backs of our neediest children, but I’ll ask anyway.

I’ll ask because our teachers deserve my support. I’ll ask because our aides, therapists, and principals do too. I’ll ask because if they can make one group bear the burden of their financial mis-management, they can make any group do so.

I’ll ask because my son cannot ask for himself.

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


  1. “I will stand to ask again why the Special Education funding has been cut by seven million dollars. It will probably be a fruitless exercise as the board seems happy to balance their books on the backs of our neediest children, but I’ll ask anyway.”

    Direct your question directly to the Board President and make sure you emphasize this is happening on her watch and the buck stops with her.

  2. Thank you for the information! I was wondering why we now had Ms. Barnes assigned to CES. Though I’m glad to have her assigned to our school (we’ve had good experiences working with her,) the change in job title and across-the-department exile explains her not-so-happy face at our last meeting.

    Whereas I thought we were getting extra support in our school, what was actually happening was more “balancing the budget on the backs of our students and staff.” Additionally, Dr. Wardynski has now divided to conquer the Special Ed staff. This will make the coordination of the multifaceted needs of each student difficult. Maybe he’s hoping that we’ll just “give up” and take what’s offered?

    Not mentioning any names, but let me guess which rubber-stamp staffer is still at the Mertz Center?

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