Public education is under attack nationally and locally here in Huntsville under the guise of “private organizations can do our jobs better.” Or as Dr. Wardynski puts it, “they provide services that we can’t.”
This isn’t true.
If a service can be provided, it can be provided by the public. The public may choose not to provide it, but it can be provided.
So it comes down to cost. Even though Wardynski likes to down play this as a part of his decision making, it usually is the primary reason why services are offered or withheld.
So it would seem that the superintendent who in September announced that he didn’t believe in closing schools, is planning to close yet another one. (Providence Middle, Huntsville Center for Technology, Whitesburg Elementary/Middle, Chapman Elementary/Middle, Mt. Gap Elementary/Middle, New Century all make the list.) The Seldon Center, a program designed to be a stopgap for students facing expulsion, will be closed in February and privatized by moving the students to The Pinnacle Schools.
In doing so he offered two justifications: The Pinnacle Schools offers services that Huntsville City Schools “can’t,” and that privatizing the services will save money.
Let’s look at the first claim first: The Pinnacle Schools offers “diagnostic, assessment, education and intervention services for troubled teens, ages 12-18, and their families. Our programs are based on a medical model with 24-hour medical/nursing care.”
First, there appears to be nothing troubling about this organization. It seems that Ms. Karen Lee found herself in a situation where the school system wasn’t meeting the needs of her child, so she started an organization that would. Such action is indeed praiseworthy, and although I know quite little about it, I believe that The Pinnacle Schools is a fine organization.
However, there is nothing, absolutely nothing in that list that couldn’t also be provided by the school system, or the school system working together with other public organizations.
The school system is simply choosing not to do this. (And in many situations, we are offering services that Dr. Wardynski claims we aren’t offering. I assume that this is merely a lack of experience on his part rather than a deception, but on the 5th he claimed that Huntsville City doesn’t have “access to licensed therapists.” While he wasn’t clear about which types of therapists he was referring to, the system does indeed have access to and currently employs licensed therapists. Again, if the system wished to make this a priority, it could indeed have access to licensed therapists.)
But it will save money, right? On Thursday, January 5th, Dr. Wardynski claimed that Pinnacle could offer more services at a savings of about $7,000 per student. He claimed that Huntsville City spends $18,000 per Seldon student and that Pinnacle would offer more services for approximately $11,000 per student. (As you can see in the contract, this amount is somewhat questionable.)
And yet, this $11,000 per student does not include many cost centers that the system will still be required to pay under the contract. (You may download a copy of the contract here.)
The system will still pay for the following:
- A1. Referral and Placement: HCS will designate a referral official to provide documentation supporting the referral. Furthermore, not every student referred to TPS will necessarily be accepted. (2)
- A2. Assessment: HCS will provide extensive communication with TPS. (2)
- A8. State Testing: “HCS will be responsible for any state testing that referred students may be required to take each year. HSC Accountability and Research will provide certified staff to administer all mandated Alabama State Department of Education Assessments” (3).
- B5.b. IEP Implementation: “HCS may assign a certified special education instructor employed by HCS to visit the identified students at the program and consult with program teaching staff regarding adjustments related to academic or behavioral services for the identified students” (5).
- B5.c. IEP Implementation: “Additional IEP services that fall outside the general scope of instructional strategies such as but not limited to speech therapy and other accommodations, will be administered by HCS outside the hours in which the identified students attend the program or adjustments can be made in the daily schedule to accommodate any HCS personnel that need to meet with the identified students to administer the additional IEP services” (5).
- B6. Food Service: “HCS will be responsible for preparing and delivering required meals for RAISE Program students each weekday” (5).
- B9. Program Evaluation: “The RAISE Program’s effectiveness will be evaluated based on criteria determined by both HCS and TPS. HCS will provide all necessary demographic and achievement data for students enrolling in the RAISE program” (5).
I wonder if those costs were included in the evaluation “proving” that TPS will be cheaper to operate than Seldon? Somehow, I doubt they were.
Additionally, while Ms. Lee stated that Pinnacle would be able to meet the requirements of the IEP, the very first paragraph under B5. IEP Implementation says, “a. HCS, the parent and the student must acknowledge that the identified student will be held to the same standards of conduct, academic progress expectations and attendance requirements as any other RAISE Program students” (5).
As a parent with a child who has an IEP, it’s clear to me that Ms. Lee has no understanding of what an IEP is. The basic premise of an Individualized Educational Program is that the individual student is held to individual standards of conduct, academic progress expectations and attendance requirements. That’s the main point of having an IEP.
But I don’t blame Ms. Lee for this. She is, by her own admission, new at working with students having an IEP. The problem doesn’t lie with her or The Pinnacle Schools, but rather with Huntsville City Schools’ leadership not understanding the purpose of an IEP.
If Dr. Wardynski had any experience at all, or perhaps if he were willing to listen to those who do, he would know not to sign this contract with that statement.
But he doesn’t. Or he doesn’t care.
And that’s why he wants to privatize education in the city of Huntsville. He’s not actually committed to public education. He doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t believe in the value it offers a community.
He’s privatized the hiring and training of principals. He’s privatized the hiring of unqualified “teachers.” Now he’s privatizing the services we’re offering to some of our most vulnerable students.
He was placed into his position by corporate interests. This $1,596,000 for the RAISE program (for up to 125 students at a rate of $12,768 per student) and $433,438 for five beds at the Elk River Treatment Program (at a rate of $86,687.60 per student) for the next year is just the beginning of his paying them back.
The Board will likely approve this $2,029,440 contract on Thursday.