Ram It Down The Public’s Throat

Yeah, I know, no one wants to be bothered with talk of our testing, excuse me, school year during the first weeks of summer. The problem is that Dr. Wardynski and his personally chosen board of education are fully aware that no one is really paying attention to them right now. So we kinda have to.

Walker McGinnis, I’m sure, didn’t think anyone was listening Thursday night when he was telling the rest of the board during a presentation on the scholarships earned by seniors this year that “We need to take this scholarship number] and I mean literally ram it down the public’s throat.”

 

A New Contract for The Driscoll Group

Aside from not knowing the correct usage of the word “literally,” I’m sure McGinnis was thinking at the time that he needed give yet another justification for the district to pay The Driscoll Group yet another $72,000.00. Since October 2013 through March 2015 (the most currently available financial statement from the district), we’ve already paid The Driscoll Group $85,452.50. Assuming that we continue at the current rate of about $4,500.00 for the months of April and May, this new contract will bring the total we’ve paid Driscoll to at least $166,452.50. I say at least because it is entirely possible that the previous hourly contract will remain in effect to this “Supplement.”

Oh, and by the way, the new contract is the first one that’s actually publicly available. The original contract wasn’t discussed in public or made public until Anson Knowles filed his now dismissed ethics complaint and Challen Stephens asked for a copy for his story. That was, by the way, nearly two years after the contract was supposedly signed by the Superintendent in August 2013. (Without a public record of the board having approved this contract, we have no way of knowing when it was actually created. And there is no public record of the board having approved this contract.)

According to the terms of the 2013 contract, The Driscoll Group was to be paid $150.00/hour for up to 24 hours of work, and then $100.00/hour for any additional work.

Working backwards then from the total we’ve paid The Driscoll Group since October 2013, Mr. Driscoll has billed the district for approximately 842.525 hours of work over that period.

In addition to this new contract, I suspect we’ll continue to see Mr. Driscoll at board meetings. After all, attending them lets him bill the district for another $300.00.

By the way, dismissing the ethics complaint does not change the fact that Robinson, Ferrell, and “Ram It Down The Public’s Throat” McGinnis all hired The Driscoll Group to work for their campaigns while The Driscoll Group was also working for Huntsville City Schools. (McCaulley and Blair also hired The Driscoll Group for their campaigns, but not while he was working for the district.)

Just because the Alabama Ethics Commission has dismissed the ethics complaint does not mean that it doesn’t still stink. (A quick search on AL.com of Ethics complaints shows that most of them are in fact dismissed.)

But that our board and superintendent are adept at covering their backsides is not news. This is their primary reason for existing.

The Board is Terrified of Citizens’ Comments

We see it nearly every time they have met, our board and superintendent are terrified of having to listen to citizens who might ask questions about their kids’ education. For example, once again this past Thursday night, they changed the Board’s Standing Rules to limit the public’s access to the board even further.

Here’s a summary:

  • Citizens may address the board publicly only once a month at the second board meeting of the month. (This was changed back in 2013. They were too busy to listen to the public speak for 3 minutes twice a month. Robinson even claimed that these 3 minute comments were “interfering with our ability to do the business that we needed to do.” This is of course complete caca.)
  • Any citizen wishing to address the board once a month must sign up to speak by providing their Name, Address, Organization Representing, and Subject Matter of their comment before being allowed to speak.
  • A “citizen” is defined as someone living within Huntsville City Limits. (This is also known as the “Terri Michal Rule.” The board adopted this change last year because they were too afraid to answer questions from a concerned citizen who did not live in the city limits.) While the standing rules do not make an exception, Ms. McCaulley did state that people living on Redstone Arsenal would also be welcomed. She’s always happy to make exceptions for people she likes.
  • If a citizen wishes to address the board once a month, the citizen must email the board clerk by 10:00am the day of the board meeting to be placed on the list. (Previously, this deadline did not exist.) Alternately, you may sign up on a sign-in sheet that will be in the foyer until 10 minutes before the meeting starts. (If you wait to sign up, you could easily be kept from doing so. It is not unusual at all for the doors to Merts to be kept locked until about 10 minutes before the beginning of the meeting. They also regularly require the public to enter through metal detectors before being allowed to the foyer to sign up.)

As McCaulley stated, “we want you to email to sign up so we know who will be speaking to us.” What she should have said was, “sign up so we’ll know if we need to call in some ringers to say nice things about us as we’ve done in the past.”

As Ferrell specifically pointed out twice, if citizens’ comments become repetitive (and it’s up to the board president to decided what is and is not repetitive), the president will rule such comments out of order, and if the citizen does not stop speaking, that citizen will be escorted out by security.

Funny. As I’ve been emailing her regularly since September 2014 asking questions about T&W Operations without receiving an answer, it would seem that Ferrell needs things repeated for her.

I share this not because changes to the board’s standing rules are unusual. They’re not. They change the rules for speaking to them at least once a year. This new board is doing so every 6 months or so, now.

I share this to let you know that the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education consisting of Walker McGinnis, Beth Wilder, Elisa Ferrell, Mike Culbreath and board president Laurie McCaulley, along with their boss and high-commander, Dr. Wardynski, are terrified of having to listen to the public.

As is the case with all bullies, these bullies have to regularly protect themselves from the public that they were elected to serve. As is the case with all bullies, they are themselves cowards.

They are happy to “literally ram” their propaganda (that we’re paying for at a rate of at least $100/hour, by the way) “down the public’s throats,” but if you wish to simply talk to them, for a mere three minutes, well that’s “interfering with the board’s ability to do their business.”

But really, none of this matters that much. Wasting at least $166,000 on even more public relations (you know, it has always seemed to me that the amount spent on PR is inversely proportional to the quality of the product being promoted, but then I’ve not mastered the art of the sale, so what do I know), wasting time limiting the voice of the public, showing the public that our board is solely concerned about promoting themselves and nothing else, isn’t news. This board, and the previous one, has been doing this for years.

It wasn’t even news that we went into debt to the Authority Pool Bonds to the tune of $46,775,000. Again, these boards have been doing this for years.

So What Was Important?

What was news were the 32 teachers and other employees who voluntarily resigned or retired this past Thursday who were approved by the board without a single comment or question. Well over 1,000 people have chosen to voluntarily leave this district since Dr. Wardynski came on board in July 2011. That works out to at least 250 per year running away from these bullies over the past four years.

As a point of reference, remember how shocked everyone was when the district laid off 280 employees in 2011? Every year since, we’ve had the same number volunteer to leave because of the working conditions in this district, and no one on the board gives enough of a damn to ask about it.

(The only exception to this was Mr. Topper Birney when he was about to leave his seat in August 2014. His questions about the rate at which teachers were leaving were dismissed as nothing new. When I wrote to ask Mr. Giles for evidence that the rate had been the same for years, he respectfully declined to provide it.)

We are still running off our best and our brightest from Huntsville City Schools. It’s a shame that when Mark McCarter was embedded with our schools’ greatest resource, he didn’t have time to talk to those of our greatest resource who have volunteered to leave over the past four years.

What was also news was the presentation on what our district will be doing to Gifted Education in the coming testing/school year. (Increasing testing is, unsurprisingly, a part of it.) I’ll be writing about those changes next.

I’m not trying to conduct my own PR campaign here, but these changes that the district is, figuratively, ramming down our throats at the beginning of the next testing/school year are too complex and troubling to handle at the end of this post. I would suggest that you download and review the presentation on your own first. We’ll talk about the changes soon, without, I hope, ramming anything down anyone’s throat.

Mr. McGinnis would, I’m sure, be disappointed, but that’s okay. I don’t operate the way that he and this district do. Ethics actually matter to me.

 
Russell

“Children see magic because they look for it.”

–Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus’ childhood pal.

5 Comments

  1. Russell, once again the research and fact-based opinions you provide are excellent. I must admit that my frustration level (as most of those on this blog) has gone through the roof with regard to the minions we have on the school board. I know you’re busy, but I think you would receive tremendous support if you could somehow get on this board, and perhaps rise to the top, hopefully bringing in others who think likewise. It is sickening when I recall how things worked “when I went to school” (heck even for years after I went to school). There was complete open dialogue when parents and concerned residents had questions or comments at school board meetings. There existed no animosity and, here’s a shocker, we all actually did look after the best interest of the student. Our graduates today may have nice looking GPA’s and get decent scores on the ACT, but when it comes to speaking articulately or knowing basic facts about the world we live in, well, frankly most are embarrassingly ignorant. Laptops for third graders? High paid consultants? Tests that are used to grade teachers? Pearson? And on and on. And the fact that so many good teachers and school employees have quit or been let go in the past 4 years is absolutely disgusting. Let’s right this ship. We’re really not doing our students any favors with the current system.

  2. I agree that things went really well when I attended HCS 35 years ago, but now its a complete joke. Almost $200K for PR, it is insane. I guess you need Public Relations when your are afraid of the PUBLIC and you cannot RELATE to any of their comments and concerns. The fuhrer, a ruthless and tyrannical leader (as defined in the dictionary) thinks more of promoting himself than looking after the best interests of the students. The money he has wasted on consultants and lawyers are wasted resources that would be better directed to graduating articulate students. What’s worse, this will continue until the Superintendent has finally promoted himself to a higher position outside of Huntsville (let’s hope that place is far, far away from Alabama). For those lifelong residents of Huntsville, can you recall another public official who was so divisive, egotistical and self promoting? Can you say “Sal Vizzini” ?

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