Times Director: Efficiency Justifies Breaking The Law

Times Editorial

Our new Community News Director at the Huntsville Times, Anthony Cook, has great news for criminals everywhere. Suddenly if you claim that you’re being “efficient,” breaking the law does not matter.

And he’s not alone in sharing this opinion. It seems that WAFF’s new reporter (who prefers offering his opinion to simply reporting) Charles Molineaux also agrees with Mr. Cook.

Let’s see if we can follow their logic.

Cook argues that “Washington is going after Huntsville City Schools for $2.6 million as punishment for the school system’s effort to be fiscally responsible.” So, Cook admits that “too many special ed aides were laid off, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” In other words, he acknowledges that the district has broken the law. Of course while talking about it, he never refers to IDEA as a “law,” but rather as just an “act.”

Unfounded Claims From the Times

He claims that “in the years preceding 2011, the system was bloated, employing hundreds more support personnel than necessary.”

Of course, he offers absolutely no support for this opinion whatsoever. He then asks, “Flabbergasted yet?”

On one point, he’s correct: the federal law does not allow a district to cut Special Education funding on the basis of availability of funding. Why might that be? Any special education parent (if he had cared to ask any of us) can tell you, the first place where a district looks to cut when funding dips is special education. As I pointed out to the board 16 months ago, the district placed 41% of the cuts on 12% of the population. Under no circumstance is this fair.

It’s amazing what lengths he will go to justify the system breaking the law.

And it is a law.

Evidence That The Cuts Have Hurt Students

Mr. Cook attempts to temper his extremism by claiming:

And, if any evidence showed that special ed students suffered or were neglected under the smaller staff, that would certainly be a case for enforcing the penalty.

I guess he was too busy to do a google search or, you know, actually ask even one special eduction parent about this wildly inaccurate claim. Here’s some evidence that the reduction in staff has hurt students. Here’s some more. And more. Since Mr. Cook doesn’t watch local news, here’s at least one example where a special education child was injured perhaps as a result of there not being enough aides to supervise him.

Is it too much to ask someone who writes for a newspaper to actually do some investigation before spouting off his uninformed opinions? Evidently under the new, intensive three-days a week publishing schedule, the Community News Director is just too busy.

Breaking The Law For Efficiency

But for now, let’s assume that Mr. Cook’s central argument is correct: The law can be broken, even should be broken, when it results in efficiencies.

I wonder if Mr. Cook would be willing to apply this new standard to other areas. It’s certainly more efficient for me to exceed the speed limit when I’m late, so it must therefore be okay for me to do so, right?

It’s certainly more efficient for me to take 10 copies of the Huntsville Times out of the paper box and sell them for myself than it is for me to pay for all 10 copies. It’s good to know that Mr. Cook would be flabbergasted if I didn’t do just that.

Wanting To Have It Both Ways

Mr. Cook, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim that “there’s no arguing with the intent of the law” and in the same breath argue that following the law is “not the logical thing to do.”

I hope this pathetic level of “critical thinking” isn’t what we should expect from now on from our community news director.

If it is, honestly, wouldn’t it be more efficient if this community news director were working elsewhere?

Yes sir, I am flabbergasted.

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


  1. Anthony Cook likes his new J-O-B. Who is Anthony Cook? He is the former managing editor for the Anniston Star and pastor of the Christian Fellowship Bible Church.

    This is what he said about his new position;

    I believe in fairness and balance and truth and timeliness and being a watchdog over government and being a microphone for the little guy and all the things I learned in the hallways of the Haley Center.
    I believe this is the opportunity of my professional lifetime, and I intend to make the most of it.

    He’s being a microphone all right, but it’s not for the “little guy”.

    1. Ah, well the Wrath of God certainly explains a lot. I’m sure he sees my son’s illness as God’s wrath for something.

      Funny, when I read the Bible, I tend to come away far more impressed by God’s love than I am with his wrath.

      1. You gotta love this sentence from Redeye’s link:

        “Going out and asking tough questions, covering ball games.”

        That is all.

        1. My favorite sentence from the link;

          Cook said. “… I think we’re all kind of feeling our way around and are trying to figure out the right way to do it.”

          Are we in trouble yet?

          1. I think I’ll start “feeling” my way around every time I get behind the wheel. That Stop sign — it’s not really meant for me, is it? Why should I sit at this red light when I can’t see anyone coming? No-U turn — that is going to reduce my efficiency at getting where I want to go. No cop car anywhere, and if I don’t get fined, [or per Fangirl, sued], I must be doing the right thing. Carry on.

  2. The problem with Cook’s argument is that he ignores the actual meaning of the word “efficiency.” To be efficient is to do the SAME job BETTER, not to employ shortcuts that undermine the quality or nature of the product. If I’m making a cake, but I decide it’s more efficient to use what’s on hand (instead of running to the store to get what’s called for in the recipe), chances are my cake’s not going to taste very good. And if the cake’s not good, the whole undertaking is a waste, which is certainly not “efficient.”

    HCS has decided not to worry about the standard of education for special ed (actually, I would argue that that is sort of their overarching philosophy for education as a whole) so long as money is saved. You know how we could save a lot of money? Just stop having school. Oh, but wait, that’s not legal. Well, as it turns out, neither is the evisceration of special education. Hence the problem, Cook.

    And Russ, if you’re looking for journalistic professionalism in our local media, you’re going to have to be satisfied with occasional flashes of something south of brilliance. Now that I think about it, it’s probably waaaaay more “efficient” to sit at a computer and opine rather than to conduct interviews and research.

  3. It didn’t prove terribly efficient for the Huntsville Times to sit on the fence and never question authority, did it?

    What’s needed is an alternative source for local news to make it easier to persuade peopke to boycott this sad little excuse for journalism and its advertisers.

    My junior high school paper was more provocative — but that was in the 70s when journalism in the public schools amounted to more than how many pictures of the beautiful people could be crammed into one $50 book. That’s a rant for another time.

    Thing is, although I am encouraged by the true professional growth of Crystal Bonvillan — achieved not by pricely workshops but by just going in there and doing the job — I hate al.com. But I visited it regularly. Masochism, I guess. TV station sites from now on for me.

  4. It’s a stupid law — typical Washington. I believe in the importance of special education, but given the stupidity of this law (once you establish a special ed funding level, you can’t ever lower it), the smartest thing a school system can do from a financial standpoint is to provide the absolute legal minimum level of special ed and never increase it.

    Great incentive system the feds have created there. Gotta hand it to Washington, it knows how to screw up pretty much anything.

    1. Ben,

      For many, many reasons I completely disagree with your assessment of IDEA 2004. Before you level your criticism towards a law that establishes somethings that you believe are important, you might want to read more about it. I would highly recommend the Wrightslaw website as a good place to start. Here’s a link to Pete Wright’s article on the history of Special Education in America: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/art/history.spec.ed.law.htm

      Until 1954 with the passage of Brown v The Board of Education did our country begin to consider that educating every child was actually important.

      Without the law, my son would be relegated to a private institution surrounded, in all likelihood, with other kids/people with autism on a regular basis. His greatest advances have come from working with and playing with children who are not on the spectrum. This law makes that possible.

      There are, in fact, several ways by which a school system can legally reduce the amount of funding they allocated for SPED. One of those ways is when the population drops. And as we see, the school system already spends less than the minimum required. That’s why they’re being told to refund some of the funds. (This is, by the way, a minor part of the amount that they actually underspent.)

      Without the federal government, our schools would still be segregated, and my son would be excluded from receiving an education that is appropriate to his needs.

      1. Classic straw man argument. Dragging Brown into this is beyond absurd.

        Whatever the merits of the IDEA law as a whole, incentivizing school systems to spend as little as possible on special ed by making it extremely difficult to ever cut spending seems like a very strange way of making things better for special ed students.

        1. Classic ad hominem argument.

          Clearly you didn’t take the time to read any of the link that I suggested to you. What is beyond absurd is claiming absurdity without even reading what I wrote. Before Brown very few public schools were open to special education students. This isn’t a racial argument (not that there’s anything wrong with that), this is a segregation argument. Brown ended systematized/legalized segregation that was also being applied to children with disabilities. If you have compelling evidence to the contrary, feel free to share it. If not, feel free to just call me names. I really don’t mind.

          IDEA requires that a school district fund Special Education. It allows for a reduction of those funds in many cases, but the claim “we don’t have the funds” isn’t one of them. That makes things better for special education students by keeping them from bearing the brunt of cuts as they did during the 2011 RIF.

          1. “Classic ad hominem argument.”

            Well, except it’s not because I didn’t actually “call you names.” I said bringing Brown into a discussion about the wisdom of telling school systems they can’t ever lower SPED funding was ridiculous. And it is.

              1. No, but it can only be done under very specific circumstances under stringent guidelines. If the school system institutes a gold-plated SPED program during boom years but then wants to cut back when times get lean, tough luck.

                1. “The government” is saying you can’t cut back on services to special education students, or, balance the budget on the backs on those who need it mos, because of poor planning by those in charge of the managing the school district.

                  When “times are lean” those with the least are always asked to sacrifice the most.

            1. Ben,

              You’re correct that you did not call me names. You’re also correct that your comment was not an ad hominem argument. I was wrong, and I offer you my apology for my error and for allowing my emotions to determine my response. That was wrong of me, and I’m sorry.

              You are not correct concerning the suggestion that my mentioning Brown was an example of the straw man fallacy. Brown was the immediate anticedent for parents of SPED kids to begin lobbing for the rights of their children.

              Could it have started anyway? Of course, but it was Brown that gave them a legal leg to stand on.

              I’m not sure what about that claim is “beyond absurd” to you, but that’s fine. You can consider it however you wish, and I thank you for sharing your opinion on the matter.

          2. BTW — I did, in fact, read the article you linked to. As it clearly states, Brown was solely about racial segregation and said nothing about special education. It certainly did not “end systematized/legalized segregation” as it applied to children with disabilities.

            The article states: “After the decision in Brown, parents of children with disabilities began to bring lawsuits against their school districts for excluding and segregating children with disabilities.” But unless the article leaves something out, it doesn’t sound like these suits were very successful, because the writer immediately jumps to changes in black-letter law.

            So at best, it can only be said that Brown set in motion some events that paved the way for positive changes for special education students. But given that there was already an active reform movement afoot at the time, the legislative changes may very well have happened even without Brown.

            And none of this has a thing in the world to do with the wisdom of incentivizing school districts to spend as little on special ed as legally possible.

            1. You’re arguing from hypotheticals Ben. No system has ever offered a “gold-plated” SPED program as you suggested earlier. Ever.

              And I’m not asking for a gold-plated SPED program.

              I’m seeking an appropriate education for my children, not a gold-plated one.

              1. I do have a question, which will require me to do a little research, but I’m just throwing this out there in the meantime…Does IDEA prevent school systems from making proportional cuts to special education when they cut the budget for all students based upon revenue shortfalls, etc.? That is to say, if everyone’s resources are being cut, does IDEA insulate special education from sharing the pain? I understand that it shields against disproportionate cuts, but it hardly seems fair (or legal, for that matter) to insist that special ed funding remain at existing levels if the rest of the education budget is cut.

                1. Key words witsend, Special Education. It hardly seems fair, or legal that those who need it the most are asked to give the same, if not more than those who need it the least, as a result of spending decisions by those responsible for the fiscal management of the school district.

                  1. I’m not missing any key words, but neither am I seeing language that doesn’t exist. Court decisions such as Brown v. Bd. of Ed. and derivative legislation such as IDEA are grounded in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits the government from stacking the deck against protected classes of people — ergo, special education cannot be asked to absorb more losses than the rest of the educational establishment.

                    NO WHERE are US citizens guaranteed equality of experience or existence. It is an unfortunate reality that some people will have benefits that others do not have — be those economic, physical, mental, or relational. We are breaking the back of our government by attempting to negate that circumstance, while simultaneously killing the incentive for people to bring themselves up. Which, incidentally, was the original usage of the whole “bootstrap” figure of speech.

                    1. “We are breaking the back of our government by attempting to negate that circumstance, while simultaneously killing the incentive for people to bring themselves up. ”

                      Our governments back is not broken, nor is it breaking, and even if it was, special education funding is not the culprit.

            2. Ben said- “And none of this has a thing in the world to do with the wisdom of incentivizing school districts to spend as little on special ed as legally possible.”

              And why should/would “school districts spend as little on special ed as legally possible Ben”? How are children going to pull themselves up by their boot straps if they don’t have boots? How about “incentivizing (sic) school districts” to invest in the future of our county and the world?

              Education is the HOPE of the republic. ” Children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.”

              1. While I understand the emotion behind your comments, I think you miss an important part of the equation. PARENTS owe their children an investment in their future; THAT is who ought to ensure that their kids “have boots,” to borrow your analogy. The schools can then work with them to put these boots to use. Yes, it may require some hard work and sacrifice — all parents owe their kids this same commitment, regardless what educational accommodations they require (or don’t).

                1. With all due respect witsend, I think you miss the point, parents invest in their children’s education by paying taxes and providing them with not only boots, but food and shelter. Once the taxes are collected, it’s up to those we elect to disburse them.

                  1. In my book, governmentally-mandated food, shelter, and payment of taxes is about as low as you can set the bar for what constitutes parental responsibility. If all you expect from people who actually birth children is that which will keep them out of jail, I can’t fathom how you expect so much more from the rest of us. But it certainly is a clear enunciation of your guiding philosophy.

              2. I agree, Edgra, that education is important. For instance, knowing how to use a dictionary might prevent someone from inappropriately adding “(sic)” after an actual, legitimate word with which she is unfamiliar. Truly, we should endeavor to educate people so they don’t embarrass themselves like that.

  5. I think we should refocus …. Huntsville City School district either misspent or did not spend designated federal/state dollars as appropriated. PERIOD!!!!

    If the Hunstville City School Superintendent and Board members expect its students to follow the rules set forth in the Student Policy Handbook, they should lead by example.


    1. If the Hunstville City School Superintendent and Board members expect its students to follow the rules set forth in the Student Policy Handbook, they should lead by example.

      My sentiments exactly.

    2. If they take government funding, yes, they should follow the rules. It’s difficult to believe that is a controversial position.

      Thank you for the re-focus.


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