Rezoning Without Involving the Public

Board Meeting

I was planning to write about my adventures in opting out of the STAR Enterprise test next, but it seems that the board and the superintendent with the assistance of The Huntsville Times reporter Challen Stephens has decided that today, without any prior public discussion of the issue, was a good day to announce to the city that we should “Get Ready for the Rezoning of Huntsville City Schools.” As such, the discussion of opting out will have to wait a day or so.

Today Mr. Stephens, as a mouthpiece for the superintendent and the board of education, told the city that, “it’s time to redraw school zones throughout Huntsville.” He went on to write:

But change itself should not come as a surprise. Huntsville almost two years ago hired a retired Army colonel to fix its school system, and the board made a point of asking him to end the 43-year-old court order to desegregate city schools. Rezoning is a small part of the plan to do just that.

It’s a shame that Mr. Stephens decided to reprint what basically amounts to a press release from the board announcing this as if the decision has long since been made about rezoning. But he went further by claiming that no one should be surprised by this necessity because we all knew this was coming when we hired Wardynski and the board made achieving unitary status one of his priorities.

This sounds awfully good on paper; it’s a shame that there’s so little truth in this statement.

No Mention of Rezoning

You see, I’ve attended all but three board meetings held during Dr. Wardynski’s tenure. The three that I missed, I watched from home or on the DVD recordings available from ETV.

I’ve heard every single public discussion concerning unitary status that has occurred at a board meeting. Every single one. And you know what, not once since Wardynski was hired has there been a single public mention of rezoning during a board meeting.

Not one single mention.

So, I’m not sure what Mr. Stephens is basing his claim that “change itself should not come as a surprise.”

When the district, when the superintendent specifically state that rezoning will not occur, I’m sorry, but it does tend to come as a bit of a surprise, no matter how the Times might wish to spin it.

Wardynski Told Public No Rezoning

On January 14th, Dr. Wardynski met with the public to discuss moving Grissom High School to a new location just behind Sam’s Club on South Parkway.

During this meeting, Dr. Wardynski was asked a question about rezoning that he responded to fairly (for him, anyway) directly.

Q: Are you considering rezoning with the new Grissom?

A: No. If there is [any rezoning], it will be for currently zoned students, not transferring students.”

Dr. Wardynski went on to say that he “will not have students transferring across town – students will go to new schools at Johnson or Butler in their home school zone.”

As I said, for him, this was a fairly direct and to the point response to a direct question. It’s a shame that Mr. Stephens was evidently unaware that Wardynski had long since told us that there would not be any rezoning of Grissom High.

So yes, it does indeed come as a surprise that rezoning is now being presented as a necessity.

And really, since evidently not even the board has seen the final plan (which is nearly impossible to believe, by the way), I do have to ask how Mr. Stephens knows that “Rezoning is a small part of the plan to do just that.”

And again, if the board hasn’t seen the plan yet (as the article claims), how does Mr. Blair know that “the current plan would not rezone Blossomwood into Lee High?” How does he know that “I think Huntsville High stays pretty strong” (quite a reassuring endorsement, isn’t it)? How can Dr. Robinson claim, “I’m not seeing anything that gives me a great deal of concern?” (And really, can anyone name anything that Wardynski has done that has given Robinson “a great deal of concern?”)

What we have here is another attempt by Wardynski to use “the press” and the board of education to push his agenda on the city without any public input at all.

Even though there has been zero mention of rezoning in a public meeting, even though Dr. Wardynski himself assured the public at the town hall meeting that there would be no rezoning, we’re already being told that anyone who has a problem with this “plan” simply hasn’t been paying attention.

It seems that it is instead the Huntsville Times that hasn’t been paying attention. Isn’t that actually the only job the paper has? Shame they refuse to do it.

This is Our City. These are Our Schools.

This city belongs to us, the people. It doesn’t belong to the Huntsville Times. It doesn’t belong to the Huntsville Board of Education. It doesn’t belong to Dr. Wardynski. It belongs to us.

It’s time to remind Dr. Wardynski, the feckless board of education, Mr. Brooks and the Times that this is our city.

If you wish to do this, you may wish to speak during the public comments section of the board meeting scheduled for Thursday night at 5:30pm. If you wish to speak on this or any issue, you have to sign up before the meeting. The easiest way to do this is to email Debbie Jennings the Superintendent’s secretary at debby.jennings@hsv-k12.org. Tell her that you would like to be placed on the citizens’ comments list representing yourself to speak to the issue of rezoning.

You should demand to see the rezoning plan. You should insist that the public have input into developing the plan.

The district employees and the board of education work for us. They owe us specific answers without pushing for acceptance of the “plan” before we’ve even seen it.

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

8 Comments

  1. I literally thought the exact same thing when I read the quote from Jennie Robinson. And I chuckled when I thought it.

    This particular writer favors this style of writing. His stories are ALL regurgitated press releases, and his bias is very evident. Somewhere there’s a journalism professor who refuses to claim this former student.

    This was another good source of humor: “. . .any proposal stands to change once the public weighs in.” Of course. Because this school board has been soooooo responsive to public input.

  2. Didn’t have to look to far to see how another school district handles rezoning. Consider Madison Alabama. “School officials have established a “2013 Rezoning Info” section on the district’s website, madisoncity.k12.al.us, to help parents and other Madison residents understand what goes into the rezoning process. According to a news release from the district, that process includes conducting professional demographic studies and appointing a rezoning committee.
    The public will also have input into the process, with public hearings planned for March.” I think I’ll email this paragraph to each board member.

  3. Just want to share one more example of teh rezoning process. This one from Shelby County.

    “We have created a website as part of this campaign, http://www.scsrezone.com. In addition to links to the petition, http://www.scsrezone.com contains a presentation summarizing research we have done into rezoning best practices. Rezoning best practices fall into four main categories:”

    – permanent criteria: establish the rules before the game is played

    – parental involvement: before the maps are drawn

    – detailed demographics: for transparency

    – multiple alternatives: give the board choices

    See a pattern?

    1. Thanks for the research into best practices. Honestly, it’s amazing to me how little our district considers others in thinking about how they operate.

    2. So the Huntsville Times has posted an article asking for opinions about how the new rezoning lines should look. They are evidently seeking input for an article that they’re planning to run that will balance some of the mess in the article linked above.

      You can read the new article here:

      Here are is the comment that I left on their site (and yes, I borrowed heavily from your post, AP’d Off. Thank you. 🙂

      Sadly, the Times is asking the wrong question.

      The question shouldn’t be, “where should the lines be drawn?” Most of the public has no idea where the current lines are, much less where the new ones should be drawn.

      The question that needs to be asked is, “Is rezoning necessary?” And once that question has been answered, “What should the rezoning process look like?”

      The answer to the first question is the responsibility of those seeking to rezone schools.

      The answer to the second question is that the process should follow the best practices established at other districts around the region, state, and country. (We’re not the first district to do this, after all.)

      One approach might be similar to the approach taken by Shelby County or Madison City. Thus:

      1. The District should establish clear and open lines of communication with the public. At a minimum, a specific website should be dedicated to all material related to the issue of rezoning. This should also contain links to rezoning research into best practices.

      2. There should be a discussion of the specific criteria required to be met. If the rezoning is mandated by the DoJ, then the specific requirements placed on the district should be shared so that everyone knows what they are. If there are other requirements/criteria, they should be widely known so that everyone knows the ground rules before we begin.

      3. Parents and the Community should be involved BEFORE the maps are drawn up.

      4. Demographic Reports should be commissioned (the last demographer’s report from 2011 was fundamentally flawed and based on faulty assumptions), and the data collected from that report should be shared with the public.

      5. There should be multiple alternatives for the board/public to choose from.

      If the district operates in an open and transparent manner, this process of rezoning schools will go much smoother than if it operates as it has in the past of ignoring the public until there is an uproar.

      Hopefully the Times will be willing to champion the need for transparency rather than simply pretending that rezoning was a foregone conclusion as was done yesterday.

  4. Russell, you did a good job of summarizing the points. And the questions you pose up front are the key. Is rezoning necessary? Explain the benefits. What happens to the other school zones as a result? Will this alleviate teh overcrowding we have (particularly at Grissom and Huntsville High)? Perhaps their should be a committee formed to spearhead the effort. On it, representatives from the community (maybe a PTA member from each school), a couple of Board members, a few school officials, etc. This would provide a diversity of opinion. This should be a planned, well thought out endeavor, not a rushed whim of the select few.

  5. Challen Stephens is a school board tool, end of story.

    As for Blair and Robinson, I would assume their comments were based on having been briefed on how the rezoning would impact the schools in their districts. Therefore, they can then truthfully say they haven’t seen the “whole plan.” Taking your question about Robinson further, when was the last time she even mildly raised the possibility of a hint of a minor objection to anything Wardynski has done?

    Just think… One day, Challen Stephens will be able to win a state journalism award for his multi-part series entitled: “What on Earth Happened to Huntsville’s City Schools?” No doubt, it will all be blamed on the intransigent public that all home-schooled or moved to Madison.

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