Life is an amazing gift. Being up before the sun, looking at the night as it fades away helps to put this into perspective (although, honestly, I’m not a morning person.) The beginning of each new day is like Christmas morn: it’s hard to contain the excitement and potentiality that the day will bring.
Sorry for a rambling start. It was another wakeful night with the boy, but it ended with us walking together into school this morning, bouncing together, and saying bye. Nothing special there. Except the miracle of my boy actually telling me bye and adding three simple, beautiful words to the end.
“I Looove ooo.”
Life is an amazing gift: precious, wonderful and miraculous.
And it arises from treating each other the way we wish to be treated.
This is one simple idea that we spend a lifetime learning to follow. It’s crucial. Without it life loses excitement and potentiality. It becomes the gift that we put in the back of the closet and forget about.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit of late when I think about our schools. I wrote once that when resources tighten, it is natural to want to look after the needs of those dearest to you first. Even if doing so means that others suffer.
There was a time when I thought that we as a city would overcome this maxim. When it was announced back in June that nine schools were going to be closed, there was the beginning of a coming together that I hadn’t often experienced in this town except when the power was out. It seemed that having a state mandated superintendent sent in with orders to close schools on the basis of a flawed demographic report was doing quite a bit to get all of the schools (or at least those who were on the list) working together. There was no division between us. At least for a moment.
Too often our community is pitted against each other. We’re divided along racial lines. Those in the south are often callously unconcerned about the quality of the schools in the north. There are seemingly ancient divisions between Butler, Lee, and Johnson as well as between Grissom and Huntsville. (Or often times between Huntsville and the entire rest of the system.)
We are divided along financial lines. Wealthier schools often seem to receive preferential attention and support from the Superintendent than those schools in other parts of the community despite his claim to be primarily concerned about “closing the achievement gap.” It would be quite interesting to see if all of the schools PTA presidents, just as a single point of reference, received the same level of access to the superintendent. Somehow, I’m betting that there are those who are more equal than others.
Divide and Conquer
Now the Superintendent is attempting to divide the city along the lines of ability and the cost of services. In other words, Wardynski has offered a response to my questions about the seven million dollars in cuts. He believes that all students should receive exactly the same amount of funding, and since exceptional (the state’s legal terminology) students cost more than non-exceptional students, he is convinced that cutting funding from exceptional students is completely justifiable. He’s simply aware that it’s both politically dangerous and illegal for him to say so. So he keeps his mouth shut when I ask questions. Or he finds technical loopholes that he can wiggle through to avoid answering questions.
I suppose he’s never read Harrison Bergeron on the horror of a life where everyone was finally equal.
He wants to be the U. S. Handicapper General. He said as much in a discussion with Mr. Spinelli back during the budget hearings on September 8th. You can watch it here: http://www.ihigh.com/huntsvillecityschools/broadcast_176461.html?silverlight=1 but the volume is bad. The discussion starts at about the 3:50 mark.
Spinelli: 4.9 million is for ah special education. Approximately we spend $20 million to date on ah. Or we budgeted $20 million in Special Education for the fiscal year 2012.Wardynski: So we’re um about 5 million in federal funding, the rest will come mostly from local funding.S: Yes.W: Total expenditures are pretty close to $20 million dollars. So that about $15 million will be coming from local funding. So of our local funding, which is about $95 million, about 18-19 percent of that will go to special education. And when we lay that down across the children, we’re still completing the analysis, there’s about 2300 children that we track in sets. We’re still waiting for iNow to surface some more for budget purposes. An of those 2300, they represent just about 10% of our students. We’re spending about half of our special education funds on about 400 of those students. So about 50% of our special education funding is going to about 400 of those 2300 students. And that sorta lays down in a way that’s sorta exponential in nature that um the local funding is in some cases is up to $30,000, $40,000 per student. So we’re keeping an eye on that one. We’re implementing the IEPs. By making sure as we’re looking at IEPs and resource allocation, that we’re doing it in a way where with the real sources we have we can meet all of the students’ needs.S: Right. There’s some students that um we’re spending much more than the $30 or $40 thousand on.W: Right. There’s a few outliers.S: Yes.W: We’re taking a good look at how services are rendered to make sure we’re being efficient.S: RightW: And yet meeting the needs of the children.S: And the other 90% of your students, we’re spending about $8,000 or $9,000 a student for the education. [He is talking about non-exceptional kids here.]
So what is he attempting to accomplish here? First, he is attempting to divide the special education community. By arguing that “half of our special education funds” are being spent on about “400 of those students,” he’s attempting to say to the special education community that there are some special education students who are receiving far more services than the vast majority of the entire community.
Dividing Special Education
He’s attempting to defend his actions of cutting $7 million in special education funding by saying first to the special education (SPED) community that there are those who are getting more than your child.
I’m grateful to the SPED community for a world of things, but I think the main thing I appreciate them for is this: communication. We talk to each other, we listen to each other, and for the most part, we do our level best to treat each other the way we want to be treated.
You see, we’re used to getting those looks from strangers who don’t understand why our son is flapping his arms. We understand how it feels. And so rather than staring, we smile, or maybe we walk up and talk. In short, we would appreciate the gift of understanding from others, so when we are able, we offer it.
Dr. Wardynski’s blatantly political attempts to divide the SPED community failed because we talk with each other, and we understand that our child might soon require additional assistance.
Divide Special Education From Everyone Else
Whether or not this same blatantly political attempt to isolate the exceptional students from the non-exceptional students will work, frankly, remains to be seen.
When funding is tight, there is a sense of urgency to get what we can for ourselves and our families and let others worry about themselves. Wardynski is clearly hoping that he can make that case that spending more on a few students will be deemed unfair to the other 89% of the community who are non-exceptional. He’s clearly hoping that Huntsville gives into our baser selves rather than rising to our better angels.
The question is, is he right? Will he succeed in splitting the community into factions? A system is much easier to control when the people refuse to work together, when we only look out for ourselves and our own. A community that stands together cannot be abused.
Wardynski was sold to us as a numbers guy. That’s all well and good, but to be an effective leader you must care about more than just the bottom line. Doing the right thing for the right reason at the right time is also required. The rule of gold shouldn’t outweigh the golden rule.
Sadly, Wardynski, Spinelli, and King seem to have forgotten this. If we stand together, we can remind them.
Tomorrow, there will be a follow up with a list of reasons why you should care about the funding for special education programs. Please check back for that one.