HCS Steals from SPED Funds, Again (Updated)

UPDATE: I have been assured by Ms. Finley and Ms. Michelle Lanier Watkins that this issue is being addressed.

I am grateful to them for their efforts, and I’m waiting to see how this plays out.

Thank you, Ms. Finley, for working so hard to address this.

On June 24, 2019, WHNT reported that the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education awarded a new contract to supply support personnel to Spur Employment in an effort to save the district approximately $1 million in staffing costs. This article quoted Tina Hancock, the district’s Chief School Financial Officer as saying, “Spur will pay employees the same as PESG (Educational Staffing Solutions) did.”

Sadly, this is not so. Spur has informed people applying for the Special Education SPED) Assitant positions that their salary will not be allowed to exceed $11.25/hour this year. While some SPED aides were paid $11.25/hour last year under PESG, many were paid $15.00/hour.

This represents a 25% reduction in pay for the SPED aides from last year to this year. 

The More Things Change . . .

If this sounds familiar, it should. I wrote about the same thing exactly two years ago when Dr. Akin attempted to do the same thing. Then it was a 27% cut. Today it’s a 25% cut. 

I have attempted writing Ms. Finley and the board to find out why this is happening again, and why Ms. Hancock’s claim that employees would be paid the same isn’t true. 

No one has responded to my questions about this cut and why it’s happening.

Sadly, the district seems to be returning to a well known pattern: they are continuing to balance its books on the backs of our kids and they’re refusing to discuss it with parents. 

Yeah, I know. Most of you were hoping you had heard the last from this website and that troublemaker, Russell Winn.

If it’s any consolation, I absolute hate that I’m writing this. I wish that this site were retired and gone away forever. I’m tired of having to deal with these issues.

But I do it because these issues have a direct impact on my son’s education. And I do so because what happens with Special Education eventually happens to the district as a whole. SPED is the canary in the coal mine for the district as a whole. As SPED students are treated, eventually all students are treated. And if SPED classrooms are understaffed or poorly staffed, eventually your child’s classroom will follow.

What Last Year Looked Like

Last year, thanks to the ineptitude of PESG and the district, my son’s classroom was a revolving door of personnel. For most of the year, every school was radically understaffed in SPED aides. PESG could not hire enough people, and the people they did hire were quick to leave to easier, higher paying jobs. 

Due to salary disputes, the district lost one of the best aides my son has ever had during the middle of the year. 

Due to low salaries, my son had four different one-on-one aides working with him from January to May. 

Due to low salaries, my son did not have a one-on-one aide during his Extended School Year (ESY) this past month of June (and neither did three other students in the classroom who also were supposed to have a one-on-one aide).

Due to low salaries, my son received neither Speech Therapy nor Occupational Therapy during ESY.

Due to the revolving door of staff and the pressure this places on teachers, at the end of the school year, every SPED teacher in my son’s school was looking for a job in another district. 

Every single one. 

What The District Can Do

I know the district is in financial trouble. I know that much of this trouble is the direct result of Drs. Wardynski and Akin’s failed leadership, and the failures of a board of education that refused to hold these two accountable either while they were superintendent or after they had left. 

I don’t envy Ms. Finley’s position nor the difficult decisions that she has to make. 

However, balancing the budget on the backs of our neediest kids is not going to work. It didn’t work for Dr. Wardynski. It didn’t work when Dr. Akin tried it two years ago. 

And it won’t work now.

So what would? 

If we need to reduce costs and yet continue to hire good people, there’s a simple solution: We should hire our aides directly as HCS employees. Even with the addition of benefits (which they don’t get now), the district would still save approximately 20% in costs over farming this out to a company like Spur. 

Ms. Finley, I have been exceedingly pleased with the leadership you’ve shown since your tenure began. 

Please don’t make these same mistakes that your two predecessors have made. Our schools cannot survive more of their style of “leadership.”

If we want good schools, we have to have good personnel working in them at all levels. And make no mistake, cutting Special Education leads to cuts in every other area as well. Let’s not make the same mistakes that have been tried before. 


I want to quit writing about these issues.

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