No, old man, you have not hurt these people if they are of good conscience. But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time–we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by God’s grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it.
—The Crucible, Arthur Miller
In a press release yesterday referred to in the Huntsville Times, Dr. Wardynski announced that the “internal review” of the business practices the district conducted eight years ago has resulted in sending a report to the Alabama Department of Education and the Alabama Ethics Commission about one unnamed individual who might have directed some of the district purchases towards a family member’s local business. The story has since been updated under the following headline: “Huntsville City Schools tightening business ethic.”
This is an excellent practice by the superintendent. If there are those who are abusing their positions of trust, they should be held responsible.
But let’s take a closer look at this for a moment. As you know, I think that questions are the crucial component to helping us understand our world. As such, it’s important to raise questions about “events” such as this.
Why did Dr. Wardynski think it was important to issue a press release concerning this single “finding” from eight years ago? Why was it necessary to go public with this information that would typically be handled in private (particularly since “he’d rather not identify the employee”). What does Wardynski gain from this?
We’re told that one employee may have “purchased ‘parts’ for the district from a business owned by a family member.” What does Dr. Wardynski tell us in this press release? He tells us that he and Mr. Spinelli are watching out of how the system spent its money eight years ago. He tells us that he can be trusted with our “two most precious resources: [our] children and [our] tax dollars.” He tells us that those who abuse that trust will likely be fired. He tells us that he will in the coming weeks, “redesign the district’s purchasing and property accountability policies.”
What aren’t we being told here? The list is fairly long:
- The employee is not named.
- The family member’s company is not named.
- The value of the “parts” is not listed.
- The number of other “findings” is not revealed (but the implication is that there are numerous findings that directly resulted in the system going “bankrupt” last year).
- The reasons why the board commissioned but subsequently ignored a report from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) are not discussed. (By the way, if you’re interested, you may read the PARCA report entitled, “Analysis of Non-Instructional Expenditures, Staffing, and Operating Practices in Huntsville City School System” by clicking on the link.)
So again, what does Dr. Wardynski gain from revealing that 8 years ago there may have been an employee of the system who purchased some parts from the company of a family member?
First, he gets good press. A week ago the Times asked “How has Huntsville’s new superintendent fared in his first six months?” The responses to this question were decidedly mixed on Al.com, and rather negative on the Time’s Facebook page. Immediately after that, the Times also ran a story showing that a “Third Huntsville school employee regains job after layoff appeal.” Having a new story that clearly shows that he’s “tightening business ethic” is a dramatic improvement in just a week’s time, don’t you think?
Second, he gets the opportunity to silence employees. He’s already shown that he’s willing to go after principals, coaches and teachers (not to mention his propensity to get rid of aides and therapists), but now he’s showing the entire system that if you’ve done something that could be considered questionable even in the previous decade, you will likely find yourself answering questions before the Ethics committee.
A frightened workforce is a pliable one.
Now, you may be thinking, as with the Deputy Governor Danforth from The Crucible that, “them that fear not the light will surely praise it,” but I ask you, if you have a boss who is willing to spend the time and resources of the third highest paid employee of the system reviewing decisions from the past decade, would you be willing to question him? He’s already shown himself unwilling to be held accountable by the public and parents; he certainly isn’t going to be held accountable by those who report to him.
Finally, (well for now anyway. I’m sure that there’s much more for Wardynski to gain from redirecting attention away from his decisions and back to those decisions made before he arrived in town.) he gets to draw the press’s and the public’s attention away from the hundreds of thousands he’s paying to his friends as he expands the central office’s payroll. He also get’s to draw their attention away from the millions that he’s funneling toward Broad Foundation interests.
Here’s a chart comparing the upper echelons of the district’s leadership from January 2011 to January 2012.
We are spending just shy of twice as much on the leadership of the central office as we were just a year ago.
One final question comes to mind as I consider Dr. Wardynski’s press release. If we are indeed entering a new era where were are doing our best to protect tax dollars, if we are indeed in need of a redesigned purchasing and property accountability policies, if we are indeed tightening our business ethic, will this new ethic include the no-bid contracts with PROACT Search, SUPES Academy, and Teach for America, (which together total $2,310,000 in contracts over the next five years) that the Superintendent recommended and the board approved? Will those types of purchasing of services also be placed under Wardynski’s newly found interest in making the system accountable? They seem to be far more concerned about “parts” from eight years ago and far less concerned about the whole that’s being spent right now. Will these contracts also be reviewed by the Alabama Board of Education and the Alabama Ethics Commission?
Somehow I doubt it.
A witch hunt is always useful and profitable for the hunter.
I will be in attendance. As always, the meeting will be broadcast on ETV (Comcast 17, Knology 99), and at the Huntsville City Schools website. I will also be live-tweeting the meeting @russwinn. You can follow on Twitter or on the Geek Palaver Facebook Page.