Unanswered Questions: Huntsville City Schools Closing

Wilson's Report

For starters, keep in mind that whatever I post tonight is going to be inadequate; frankly nearly every question asked over the past two weeks has gone unanswered. These are just a few highlights as night turns into day.

  1. Why has David Blair only attended one of the School Closing Meetings? (Huntsville High. He was at the board meeting at Columbia, but after the press returned to the closing meeting, I didn’t see Blair again. While we’re at it, why hasn’t Mr. Blair offered any response to those data questions I asked him two and a half weeks ago?) Really though, these are minor questions. I’m sure that Mr. Blair had some very important meetings to attend for the past two and a half weeks. Let’s move on to some real questions.
  2. Why didn’t Dr. Steve Salmon manage to attend even one of the five community meetings to address questions that seemingly only he could answer? Again, while we’re at it, what was Dr. James Wilson’s actual involvement in the creation of the report before the community meetings. At the June 2nd meeting, he was presented as Dr. Salmon’s assistant. (Of course this was when were were paying Gude Management Group, LLC. to create the report. Now we’re paying Education Planners, LLC for Dr. Wilson’s services.) Come to find out, when you look at Education Planners website, you see that Dr. Salmon actually works for Dr. Wilson. Why do I feel like I’m watching at three card monte game on a street corner? Why am I convinced that the whole city is being scammed?
  3. Why do the demographers consistently refuse to discuss their methodology and the guidelines they received in developing this report? Interestingly, in January of this year, Bonvillian of the Huntsville Times reported that 11 schools in Huntsville are operating below 60 percent capacity benchmark that the state placed on Huntsville City Schools earlier that month. This study by the Times was based on 2008 data, but didn’t cost the system $75,000. Notice some of the quotes form the board members in that article: Blair said, “Butler is one of the obvious schools for discussion.” Birney followed up by saying, “We’ve known about Butler for years. It just doesn’t look like anything we suggest to keep it going is taken seriously.” Morrison offered this comment concerning Butler: “I doubt that we’ll close the building. We may put another school in there with it, but I don’t think we’ll close it.” Birney and Blair both claimed that they were most surprised by Mt. Gap’s numbers. McCaulley, speaking about smaller schools like Monte Sano said, “We have to factor in the size of the school. It may be that a smaller school is not effective for the whole system.” No, Dr. Richardson, there’s no evidence whatsoever that the board directed the demographer to produce any results in the report. For the record, this article was published on January 16, 2011. On January 19, 2011, Mayor Battle sent a letter to the Board offering to pay Dr. Salmon of Georgia the $75,000 fee.
  4. Why was the new Lee High built if demographics “prove” that the old Lee High was operating well below capacity? In fact, if you take the extra 1,000 seats found at the old Lee High out of the equation, then suddenly, HCS is operating only 4,500 seats below capacity in 10 years. If you factor Butler into that equation, suddenly we’re down to just 3,500 seats below capacity in 10 years. Two schools and we’ve found 36% of the capacity problem. (Again, assuming that these “very real, exact data” is actually real or exact.)
  5. If the demographer’s report is looking at capacity issues ten years out, why does the report only include data and capacity from Old Lee High and not New Lee High?
  6. Why are we spending $40,000,000 to build the New Lee High when we’re $20 million (no, $18.5 million . . . er, $15.5 million . . . whatever, WE’RE IN DEBT) in debt? Well when we decided to build New Lee in 2009 we didn’t know we were in debt. Right? No one could have predicted this or seen this coming. Right?
  7. Why does Richardson constantly claim that the Huntsville City School Board must decide which schools to close before we can consider any specific data concerning the impact of the closings on academic achievement, actual cost savings, realignment issues, transportation issues, or really anything other than questionable demographic data?
  8. Why, if Richardson is correct that we will be a healthy financially in two years without closing schools, are we even considering closing schools? According to his latest numbers, Richardson believes Huntsville City Schools is $15.5 million in debt. If you talk into consideration other cost saving measures he introduced on Thursday, June 16th, you can knock that number down to an even $14 million. On April 21, 2011, Richardson recommended and the board approved personnel cuts in the amount of $23,089,027. In other words, with those personnel cuts and the other million or so Richardson keeps finding, we’re already looking at nearly a $10 million dollar surplus.
  9. Why can’t we know what will happen to New Century once it is moved to Lee High before the board decides to move it to Lee High?
  10. Why does Dr. Richardson continue to insult parents by stating that “all parents want high standards until their kid brings home a D?”

As I said, these are just a few of the unanswered questions that remain after the five public hearings. Please feel free to add more in the comments below.

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


  1. Thank you for your comments. I have one that just graduated from NCTHS and one that is fixing to go there. They will not answer the questions truthfully. They did these meetings just so they could say they gave the public a chance to voice their opinion. NCTHS is again ranked in Newsweek and the only one in North Alabama – http://www.newsweek.com/feature/2011/americas-best-high-schools.html. Why move them and combined them with another school when they are achieving what others in the area can not do. Not only that but what happens if they manage to leave NCTHS separate if moved to Lee and 5 years down the road Lee is overcrowded? Move NCTHS again? This is really unfair; give this school a home; what other school in Huntsville never knows how long they will be in one place?

    1. Lisa,

      I agree with your assessment, and I suspect that most of the people who attended would agree with you. The impression in most of the crowds was, “this would be hilarious if it weren’t harming our kids.”

      Thanks for sharing the link about NCTHS, and CONGRATS! I had intended to put it in the posting last night, but the lateness of the hour (and the stack of papers needing grading) caused it to slip my mind. Thanks for adding it in.

      The cynic in me says that at least part of the reason that the demographer has recommended moving NCTHS is to help cover up the fact that we just spent $40 million on a school that wasn’t needed and is projected to run at about one third capacity (for “old” Lee, “new” Lee, I’m sure, is bigger) for the next ten years. In other words, somebody’s playing a little CYA with New Century students.

  2. My fantasy:
    Dr. Wardynski’s “Entry Plan” includes identifying 3 things that “are going well” in the HCS. Surely, surely the program at NCTHS will be one of the three. He will then look at the so-called demographer’s recommendation to move NCTHS and say, no way. Don’t get stuck on stupid. Don’t mess with success. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    The silence of the 5 Board members thus far — excluding extending a $500-day payment to Wilson, who owns the company that prepared the $70,000 cut-and-paste job called the Facility Utilization Study — is troubling, however. If they follow any of Wilson’s/Salmon’s recommendations, and especially the one to move NCTHS, then I will be convinced that they individually and collectively have a pathological will to failure.

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