Wardynski and Board Knew SPED Was Unfairly Targeted in RIF Cuts


Sixteen months ago, I wrote an open letter to Mr. David Blair explaining to him in great detail that he and the board of education had placed too heavy of a burden on Special Education in their efforts to cut our system’s budget. I told him, “We are placing at a minimum 41% of the budget cuts on just over 12% of the student population. These cuts have not been applied fairly and equitably.”

On July 16th, two weeks after Dr. Wardynski had been hired, I wrote him and the board of education to inform them that the RIF cuts had been unfairly applied to Special Education personnel. I again explained how SPED was responsible for 41% of the cuts.

Neither Dr. Wardynski, nor the board chose to respond to the data I shared with them.

SPED Unfairly Cut

But it seems now that the state is forcing the board to face up to the decisions that they approved without consideration. The state is also forcing Dr. Wardynski to face up to the decisions that he continued from the moment he arrived in July 2011 of balancing the budget on the backs of the neediest children in our district.

I made these facts clear to Dr. Wardynski and the board repeatedly. The only response he ever offered, aside from having district security threaten me, was to say, “The short and sweet answer is free, appropriate education in the least restrictive environment as I’ve explained to you before. We are not required to meet any specific funding level. We are only required to meet the requirements of the IEPs.”

When I pointed out to him that IEPs were not being met, Dr. Wardynski responded:

“Then su . . . then you have recourse.”

This callous approach toward Special Education children continued and worsened during his tenure.

Wardynski Deepens The Cuts

The first budget for 2012 called for a seven million dollar cut in the special education budget. In other words, SPED was being asked to shoulder 61% of the projected savings for the year.

Only after extensive complaints from me and others did Dr. Wardynski return the seven million that he cut from special education back to the budget. But not until the end of the fourth quarter of the 2012 fiscal year, did he actually attempt to spend those funds. Up until that point he was on a pace to spend just $20 million of the $27 million budgeted.

Then, miraculously, at the close of the second budget hearing in September he announced that the district would spend the total special education budget. At the end of the third quarter, the district had spent $16,135,493.12 of a budgeted $27,376,209.04. In other words, they had $11,240,715.92 left to spend in the fourth quarter of 2012. Here is the Special Education expenditures for three quarters of 2012. It shows that they had 41% of their budget left unspent at the conclusion of the third quarter.

spec ed fy2012 thru june 2012

This was why on Saturday, September 29, 2012, (or two days before the end of FY2012) my son’s special education resource room looked like this:

SPED spending

It was filled with all brand new furniture, teaching tools and supplies. While I certainly appreciate this material, it should have been purchased before school started so that its arrival wouldn’t interfere with instruction time (as it did on Friday, September 28th).

This was why on September 20th, the board voted to give Mrs. Amy Sledge, the Director of Special Education a substantial raise from Grade 3/Step 14 to Grade 2/Step 12.


The district had an extra $6 million that it was holding back until they had been forced–at the last minute, and upon threat from the state and the federal government–to meet the needs of our kids.

Breaking the Law is Neither “Efficient” Nor “Effective”

In response to the Times‘ report today, Dr. Wardynski typically stated:

“This is why the United States is going bankrupt. There is no room for being efficient and effective.”

It is neither efficient nor effective to balance your budget on the backs of the most needy children in our schools. The board’s decisions before Dr. Wardynski arrived led us to this place. Dr. Wardynski’s decisions since arriving will lead to the state applying additional penalties for the FY2012 SPED budget cuts. Stephens’ report hints at exactly this when he writes, “Huntsville may also owe about $1 million for reduced spending in 2012.

This is not an oversight. This is not the result of being “efficient and effective.” This is the intentional result, despite a year and a half of warning from me and others, of a superintendent and a board that are more concerned about their own aides, their own salaries, and their own well being, than they are about the well-being of our children.

This has been evident since nearly the day Dr. Wardynski was hired. This is evident in his name-calling of parents who ask questions. This is evident in his disregard of wrong-doing at The Pinnacle Schools. This is evident in his disregard of student safety so that he can brag about how awesome his decisions are. This is evident in his blaming of the victim, the family of the victim, and even the entire community for problems and issues that his decisions and un-written policies have created.

Board Ignores Wake-Up Calls

This $2.6 million dollars wake-up call to the board should draw their attention to the fundamentally unfair and illegal approach that the superintendent has taken in the leadership of our schools. But I’m sure it won’t.

The Huntsville City Schools Board of Education will, I am certain, continue to claim that they didn’t know they were breaking the law. They will pretend that they don’t hear the disdain with which he speaks to them, to our teachers, to our parents, and most importantly to our students.


They will, I am sure, go right on believing his ridiculous claims that it’s far better for our students to receive “new technology and equipment” rather than personnel.

My son is autistic. He’s one of the reasons that I’ve been fighting so hard for the past two years to shed light on the actions of this superintendent and board. He LOVES his iPad.

But here’s the thing: My son doesn’t need another iPad. What he needs are teachers and aides who love him, who are fairly paid for their work, and who pound away at the fog of autism despite the total lack of concern and support they receive from Dr. Wardynski and the board of education.

Despite the joy his technology brings him, nothing but great teachers have ever brought out the joy and happiness seen below:

Two Boys

Dr. Wardynski wants to continue to run off great teachers and aides and replace them with computers because he believes them to be cheaper.

His destruction of our school system must be brought to an end, immediately.

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


  1. We do not know what to do. Our board members will not take our calls nor respond to our e-mails. Our administrators are afraid to use discipline putting our children at risk of serious harm by bullies. I just heard on channel 31 news about another bullying incident at Williams Elementary School. Again, Superintendent Wardynski used the excuse “I am not aware”. He is not aware because he has made our principals afraid to discipline these bullies. How can we get rid of him? What can we do?

      1. Document . And show up to every board meeting and call for every cowardly boeard memeber to resign if they don’t ask W immediatley . It is, to use a military term a dereliction of duty for him to say he’s not aware an continue to put children at risk.

    1. When you send emails, turn on read reciept.

      It may be a coincidence, but the only email Topper Birney responded to was the last one I sent him, which was the 1st one I turned read receipt on.

  2. Russ, do you know why HCS is being required to pay $2.6 mil to the state? What does that accomplish? It seems wiser that that money be reinvested locally to bring our special ed services up to an appropriate level. I understand that there might need to be oversight to ensure that it’s done right, but what in the world does sending the money to Montgomery do for the local students whose needs have been ignored?

    1. Witsend:

      I understand the point that you’re raising, and I agree with a lot of it. The concerns here are the same ones that have kept me from pursuing legal action even though I believe that I have had several cases: unless there is no alternative, doing so is a waste of resources.

      Yes, we need that $2.6 million here locally.

      My first job here in Huntsville was as a grant writer (Teaching is better. Well, for that matter in many ways, food service was better. :)) The one single control that a funding institution has over a funded institution is the ability to require that the funded refund the grant monies if and when those monies are not being used appropriately.

      Funding institutions are loath to require this because it represents a failure on the part of both parties to do what they said they were going to do. When they do require a repayment, it is typically after much negotiation to avoid just that.

      I suspect that something similar is true in this situation (otherwise, why would Dr. Wardynski have decided to go on a spending spree at the end of FY2012?).

      What this repayment will accomplish both locally, at the state level, and at the federal level is force the district to use the funding as they said that they would. It will also force them to use those funds appropriately in the future for fear of this happening again.

      This is not, clearly, the ideal situation. But since the board and Dr. Wardynski knew what they were doing, and since they refused to do anything about it, they need to be held accountable. This is one way of doing that.

      Frankly, I’m certain that the actual difference between the amount HCS spent on SPED and the amount that they are being required to repay was much larger than $2.6 million. Funders regularly underestimate the level of abuse so as to downplay the problem and to lessen the impact on the groups that they are actually trying to serve.

      Great question, witsend. Thank you.

      1. So, if I understand, this is money which came FROM the state for local use for special education, which is being returned because of local misuse, not some form of penalty for the decimation of these programs. That is at least a little easier to rationalize, particularly if there is still some hope that it will wind up back here. Gotta wonder what this hit will do to our much-heralded budget turn-around (shell game)……

        I’m still troubled by the fact that these cuts (implemented prior to Wardynski’s installation as supe, but continued with his complicity since he arrived) were recommended by paid consultants (lifelong professional educators, no?). So what are the consequences of THEIR ineptitude? If it’s frustrating that the BOE *will not* call Wardynski to answer for his failures, it is even more so that they *cannot* get an answer from these hired guns.

        Sitting fat, dumb and happy in the middle of all of this is our school board. They are the common thread from disaster to disaster — ARM, the consultants who bridged the gap, and now Wardynski. Whatever boondoggles have been visited upon this school system, the board members are the ones who signed off on the mess.

        1. Another absurdity is the HCS pays incredible amounts of money to defend itself to the law firm in which the HCS attorney JR Brooks is a partner, effectively meaning that each time he gives the Board bad — actionable — advice, he makes more money. Nobody has ever explained the logic of this to me, although I have pointed it out time and again.

          Fire his ass.

          It would be more efficient and effective, and save lots of bucks, to hire an ethically responsible paralegal.

          1. Efficient and effective to hire a paralegal, perhaps, but totally illegal. Is the attorney not simply on retainer? It would seem odd that we’d be paying him hourly. Of course, this doesn’t even broach the subject of the quality of the advice he gives.

            1. Yea, I know — the paralegal comment is a snark. Maybe the Board could hire an attorney from a temp agency — Wardynski plans to hire SPED aides thusly — seems to me he is going to make a special effort to find the least qualified people he can.

              I don’t know if Brooks is on retainer. I know he is at every Board meeting, and I suspect he isn’t there gratis.

        2. I think you’re spot on here, witsend. The common thread is the board. For whatever reason, district 1 actually voted to re-hire the President of the board just a month and a half ago.


    2. Oh, and as was just pointed out to me, the funding that they are required to repay are only being sent back to the state temporarily. Once they “reclassify” some non-sped funding as sped funding, the monies will be reallocated.

      1. “This $2.6 million dollars wake-up call to the board should draw their attention to the fundamentally unfair and illegal approach that the superintendent has taken in the leadership of our schools. But I’m sure it won’t.”

        And herein lies the problem. The superintendent recommends policy and the board adopts.

        It’s the bought and paid for board of education.

  3. I see the repayment as a FINE because the Board and Colonel BROKE THE LAW, plain and simple, and hence they all need to resign.

    I believe they are breaking the law regarding No Child Left Behind transfers. I believe they are breaking the law by sending kids for indefinite periods to the Pinnacle Schools’ private wilderness detention camp. I believe they broke the law when they used taxpayers’ money to contract with Pinnacle without confirming the qualifications of the staff working directly with students, that is, Eric Lee, the owner’s son, who is out on bail for drug trafficking.

    All teachers and counselors (like doctors, nurses, social workers) are required by LAW to report to the police or DHR any suspicion that a child may be in danger or has been abused. Every time a teacher or staff member is intimidated into not doing so, those who are blocking these reports are BREAKING THE LAW. See Ala. Code § 26-14-3 and http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/state/index.cfm?event=stateStatutes.processSearch

  4. Go to the top of this page. There you will find a tab to click on for contact info [email addresses] for the Board. Now email a little message to each one. I doubt it will be opened, and having done so myself I know you won’t get a response, but all that needs to be said can be said in the subject line: SPED funding: Russ told you so.

    Imagine the five of them, their mailboxes filled with this little reminder on the subject lines of hundreds of messages:

    Russ told you so.

    Russ deserves it.

    They deserve it.

      1. And no one has done a better job than you in bringing this mismanagement to people’s attention.

    1. I did what havealittletalk suggested and sent the email to David Blair. Many others must have done the same thing because I got a form letter reply within about 30 minutes. Normally it takes days to weeks to get a reply, if I get one at all. Is it too much to hope that the board is starting to wake up?

        1. True. But a canned reply is more than he normally gives. Usually if I get a response at all, it is simply “Thank you for your email” and nothing else. I hope others will continue to contact him and ask questions until he is finally forced to pay attention to what is going on in the schools.

    2. I have already send out emails to all of them…. saying Russell Winn has been telling y’all for 16 months that the RIF within SPED is illegal. I am so happy I never vote for niether of you…..Have a good day.

  5. When my son’s SPED teacher told me that she would be ordering some items (because they had gotten some money) I thought “really?”. My next thought was did we find a magical money tree? Now I find out it was spend it or pay another/bigger fine (as I view it). So sad to be living in a city with a school system full of leaders that have NO common sense!!!

  6. Appears to me that Spinelli left at the right time…no skin off his back. I still believe the Madison County legislative delegation should be approached by a citizen group to sponsor “recall” legislation to include school board members.

  7. Any member of the delegation that opposes doing so will appear to condone the actions taken by HCS Board and Supt. That might be detrimental to their own political careers.

  8. Do you see impending law suits by the parents of the special ed students? My concern is that all the $9 million W “saved” the system will be swallowed up by all the law suits that we are beginning to see filed against HCS. Maybe that will get the attention of the board..

  9. Don’t think lawsuits are the answer to everything including systemmic flaws…perhaps they are the last resort when the system has set a precedent for repeatedly failing to meet the needs of students (such as designated funds not being utilized to implement an appropriate education with appropriate supports for students identified under IDEA and inciting the public with “BULLY” leadership). Maybe Casey should go back to the Broad Academy and ask the folks there what he’s supposed to do now …maybe he could take JR and a few board members with him as well.

  10. With all these new issues being revealed, I don’t want to lose sight of the persistent undercurrent of discontent that our teachers and parents are experiencing every day with our schools. We have a boorish superintendent who still thinks he’s in the military here for one reason…to build his legacy.

  11. Well if it’s all about the military guy’s personal fulfillment in life, let’s just take up a collection and buy a plaque that reads “You were here, you left quite an impression..your tour of duty is over…DISMISSED!!!” and present it at the next board meeting during citizen comment time.

    We might be able to get a good price on a plaque at one of the Dollar Stores. We need to budget….seeing how we’re going to have to bail out the system again for all the new buildings/additions, technology upgrades, private tutors for our children, repayment to state and federal government for misuse of funds, and JRs bank account. I’m sure there are plenty of other expenses that will surface in the very near future.

    YEAH…..quite a legacy.

    1. Concerned Parent:

      I appreciate your passion and the idea. I completely agree that even after Dr. Wardynski is gone that those of us left are going to be struggling to pick up the pieces and rebuild our system for many years to come.

      However, I would appreciate it if we could keep the focus on Dr. Wardynski specifically, and avoid referring to him as “the military guy.” The military isn’t to blame for the mess that he’s created here; he is.

      Thanks much for your comments and suggestions, and of course for reading. I like the idea of a plaque! 🙂


      1. I think it is cool to refer to W as the Colonel. I don’t think that lumps all military officers into one basket. I can’t bring myself to call a Rand PhD Dr., so for me it’s Col., the Colonel, or the Supe. In public discourse, that is.

        1. I don’t have a problem with calling him by his titles. I don’t really have any problem calling him anything at all. Just want to keep the focus on him. 🙂

  12. http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/10/huntsville_schools_cut_too_dee.html

    I’m glad that someone besides Russell is monitoring HSC funding issues for SPED (albeit late)! I can’t help but think that Russell’s consistent prodding has finally got someone’s attention (thanks Russ). Anyways, I think the board now has some ‘splaining to do regarding how this breach of IDEA requirements went unnoticed by them (despite being told by parents), and more importantly how this will reflect as a negative review on the Super’s performance (can we recall that bonus he got??).

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