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Lost Faith: Part Three-By David Slaton

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the Geeks, David! Had I not been so long-winded last night, David would have been far more effective in convincing the board that this closing “plan” is a bad idea than I. Here are his thoughts and comments from last night.

First, let me say what a sad commentary it is on the state of the Huntsville City Schools when the three individuals who are here to answer questions and defend conclusions are not people who have vested interests in the Huntsville City Schools.  It’s difficult to imagine how a community can have faith in a group of leaders who won’t be here in a few months.

Second, let me comment on the use of the word “plan”.   I’ve heard different people talk about the school closure “plan” being discussed in the community meetings and I feel the need to point out that what we have is far from a plan.   A plan certainly requires data and the demographer should be commended for pulling together the data presented tonight.   It’s refreshing to see that data will be used to decide what schools will be closed when in recent years such data was apparently not used when deciding what schools to build.   However, the data presented is only a part of the data needed, and focused strictly on the enrollment and capacity of each school.  Much more data is needed in order to intelligently form and execute a plan.

Tonight the representatives were unable to anticipate, prepare for, and answer basic questions like: “Where will my kids go to school?”, “How will traffic at the remaining schools be impacted?”, “What bus routes will be implemented?”, “What will the new classroom sizes be?”, “How much money will we get for each property recommended to be closed?”, and “What is the likelihood that each property recommended for closure can be sold?”.  Their lack of a plan is further evident in recent decisions.  For example, the board recently approved an expenditure of $150K for drainage and resurfacing of the parking lots of Mt. Gap, a school on the proposed cut list.  Supposed experts making $75K, $198K, and $600/day do not seem to be ready for what most folks consider to be common sense questions.

The representatives appear to have the philosophy that they should present data with some hastily-drawn conclusions, and expect the community to respond with “Thank you sir, may I have some more”.  Dr. Moore’s comment that the community seems to think that the administration is “gonna do what we’re gonna do” is an astute observation, and ironic.   This administration has a history of implementing “plans” without buy-in or cooperation from stakeholders.  There’s certainly no reason to believe that history won’t repeat itself.

In reality, all that can be done right now by the administration is to dispense information and take feedback.   With no budget numbers, with no analysis applied to the proposed options in the light of other mitigating circumstances like pending offers for school properties or DOJ requirements, and with no cooperation from the community, there is no way to form a plan.  Currently, as stated by Dr. Richardson, the administration will take the feedback over the next week or so and present it to the board, which will make a decision by “the end of the summer”.   If this is his idea of “community involvement”, he needs to find another community.   Huntsville is an engineering community and engineers need data and facts that can be analyzed, using weights and ranking systems, to objectively draw conclusions.  The feedback returned over the next couple of weeks will not have been based on any factual data other than demographic data nor will it be based on the results of studies on the various options.

Help is available, however.   In previous board meetings some board members mentioned the creation of a community-based school closing advisory committee.  What a wonderful idea!  Try to find out what your customers want before you put something in front of them and ask if they like it.   Based on the conversations I heard this evening, the HCS customers have some clever and bright ideas on how to solve the problems of the school system, if only they were asked.

Really there is only one sensible course of action.  Stop all plans relating to school closings.   Stop plans to segregate children to certain schools.  Stop spending any money that isn’t 100% necessary for the operation of the schools.  Do nothing until the new superintendent is in place.  Then, assemble teams of interested parents and community leaders to analyze the data from the demographer and think through all the scenarios to build a list of pro’s and con’s.  Let them develop metrics for identifying the most important aspects of closing a school or keeping a school and let them make the recommendation that our current leaders seem so incapable of making.  If the new superintendent were to put that kind of faith in his community, the community would certainly put their faith and trust in him.

– David Slaton