If you’ve driven by Mountain Gap School recently, you’ve no doubt noticed the construction vehicles on campus. In one area of the campus, equipment is reshaping the lot to improve drainage and all asphalt surfaces are receiving a new skin. A large sign on the front lawn of the school declares that the activity is “Progress through Education” and those of us who have been monitoring the actions of the Huntsville City Schools have to be wondering “What Progress?” and “What exactly are we learning?”
Over the past several weeks, we’ve learned much about the HCS system. We’ve learned that the administration has been inept when it comes to fiscal responsibility, having established a plan for growth when the grown hasn’t been demonstrated or projected. We’ve learned that the administration had enough demographic data to justify building new schools, but not enough to know which ones to close, causing them to hire external experts to the tune of $75K to feed data we already had back to us. We’ve learned that despite having a CFO which reported budget concerns in 2009 and despite warnings from hired consultants starting as far back as 2005, this administration continued on a path of unabated spending. We’ve learned that throughout all of this, the school board has seemed unable or unwilling to reign in their administration.
So, the “progress” that is apparently being demonstrated is the type that puts us $20MM in debt. You’d think that after having to deal with such indebtedness to the point where we have to embarrassingly hire outside help to ward off a takeover by the state, our administration would have learned their lessons, right? Yet, here we are spending $150K for a new parking lot at Mountain Gap School.
Now before you start to think this is an article meant to bash a new parking lot for an established school, let me assure you that if Mt. Gap School is kept, I fully support the maintenance of the property. The point of this article is to show that when HCS is concerned, long-range planning means “What am I doing after lunch?” Before committing $150K for a parking lot, I would kinda like to know that the school is actually going to be there. But the leadership in Huntsville City Schools seems incapable of putting much thought into their actions. As reports were being developed over the years that showed budgetary issues, the leadership committed to spend over $750K to develop plans for yet another new school (Dec., 2010). This came only a few weeks after the first RIF (Oct., 2010) meant to address the budget shortfall. Even during recent Q/A’s with the public regarding the financial mess we’re in and the plans for closing schools, Dr. Moore still held that building a new school might be necessary (Q: Has there been any discussion of opening additional schools? A: Moore stated that we may need a new middle school in the Providence area). Apparently we still haven’t learned our lesson.
During this time, we’ve demonstrated how inept at finances we are by:
- Paying $600/day for a consultant to do our job
- Paying $75K for a report containing data we already have
- Paying $198K for a superintendent we’ve already fired
- Paying $112K for a CFO, who isn’t our CFO
If the past months have taught us anything, it’s that the Huntsville City Schools have spent less time focusing on education and more time on damage control. Let’s hope that our new Superintendent has a much clearer long-term vision. Let’s hope that he has the fortitude to insist that a budget be balanced and that growth is well thought out (some might say “planned”) and controlled. Otherwise, instead of “Progress through Education”, the sign might read “Regress through Spending”.