“I’m not sure that makes me feel any better.” David Blair.
I know exactly how you feel, Mr. Blair, and thank you for asking a good question on Thursday night. (Yes, I actually have something positive to say about a member of our school board. It can happen.)
It seems that there have been some bad, and perhaps in some cases even criminal, decisions made in the past concerning the business practices of Huntsville City Schools for the past ten years. There may have been both sins of commission and omission. You can read a summary of three reports offered by consultants hired by the superintendent to review business practices before he came to town to save us in the Times. In addition to that, I would recommend that you take a look at the presentations that were offered to the board. You can find those here.
So after an extensive, lengthy and costly discussion about the business practices of the system from the past ten years, the board moved out of the work session and into voting on some of the current superintendent’s recommendations.
Dr. Wardynski loves to question the past. Throughout his hour and fifteen minute presentation on how terrible things were in the system ten years ago, Dr. Wardynski asked many questions of his consultants: Most of which were designed to show alternately how terrible the leadership of the system used to be as opposed to how wonderful the leadership of the system is today.
Even though his consultant, Byron Headrick of Lean Frog, explicitly stated numerous times that the system must have a “Strong Executive Leadership Team,” Dr. Wardynski wasn’t satisfied with that. So he asked Mr. Headrick (who gets paid to find inefficiencies) to say one more time that the only thing that the system currently has gotten right is, wait for it, a “strong executive leadership team” willing to address these changes.
[For some reason, the final conclusion slide is not included with the presentations found on the HCS website. I’m sure that’s just an oversight of our strong executive leadership team. Here’s a quick snapshot of that slide if you’re interested.]
However, once we move out of the past and into the present, Dr. Wardynski is decidedly less interested in questions about his decision making processes.
Once the Work Session of the board meeting was finally over, the board quickly moved from the past to the present. Under the agenda action items, the board was asked to approve the minutes of previous meetings and then to approve, upon the superintendent’s recommendation, the current “Consent Agenda” which included Gifts to Schools, Temporary Agreements, and Bid Tabs.
Here is a transcript of the board discussion during that portion of the meeting.
McCaulley: “The superintendent recommends the approval of the consent agenda consisting of gifts to schools, temporary agreements and bid tabs. Before we vote on bid tabs, let me. Um, board members, delete the directive, the parking signs. The superintendent said that was a little premature. So delete that, item, right there. We’re not going to get those.
Birney: Delete 1270?
McCaulley: Delete 1270.
Blair: Motion to approve the consent agenda.
Blair: Okay, I’ve got a question.
Blair: So after hearing all of this [the discussion concerning business practices], so how do I get comfortable with um, building materials, telephone replacement, and school communications center. How do I get comfortable with that?
Wardynski: Well we’re reviewing all of these, and we can always come back to the board as we did before with cell phones. But we have to keep the district running while we get things straightened out. And so these processes we’re recommending continuing, and if we need to stop we will.
McCaulley: Any more discussion?
Blair: I’m not certain that makes me feel any better.
Robinson: [Speaking over Blair and redirecting the Superintendent] So I was going to say, thirty days from now do we know that this, that we’re actually going to be what we said. I’m assuming there’s going to be more oversight, maybe some monitoring. These might be your test cases here as you develop your processes.
Wardynski: That’s right.
McCaulley: All in favor say Aye.
While Blair cannot be heard voting in favor, his mouth does move during the Aye vote. No one opposed the recommendation.
So thanks to David Blair, we have a clear understanding of the limits of Dr. Wardynski’s interest in transparency, addressing inefficiencies, and providing strong executive leadership. All of that ends prior to July 5, 2011, the day that Wardynski was hired.
For questions about his recommendations all he really has to offer is Just Trust Me.
We’re supposed to just trust him that he isn’t going to be inefficient. We’re supposed to just trust him that he isn’t going to use the system for personal gain. We’re supposed to just trust him.
Doing so would be easier if he did not seem to be constantly redirecting system funds to Broad Foundation funded organizations.
Doing so would be easier if he would simply answer questions once in a while.
In short, once again, Dr. Wardynski is engaged in a witch hunt with internal reviews that only review the past.
Please understand that I too believe that the school system must be efficient. He’s absolutely correct that inefficiencies, particularly ones like the E-Rate Review, are inexcusable. The people responsible for this must be held accountable. However, we must review more than just the past. Our board members (four of whom were on the board when all of the inefficiencies were taking place) must hold our superintendent accountable for his current actions and recommendations.
Even though Mr. Blair (the only member who wasn’t on the board during the years reviewed by Dr. Wardynski) asked a good question, he went right ahead and voted for the recommendation despite his statement that the answer of just trust me didn’t make him feel better.
This is blind faith.
Blind faith got us into this mess; it will not get us out.
I feel your pain, Mr. Blair. Dr. Wardynski’s answers (when he actually offers one) rarely leave me feeling better either.
The difference is I wouldn’t go ahead and vote for the recommendation anyway.