HCS discipline

Discipline in the Huntsville City Schools is one of the issues of concern to the Obama Department of Justice and the NAACP.  The HCS Student Incident Report summary for 2009 / 2010 does show a striking difference between incidents reported at Huntsville City Schools, but why? 

The HCS SIR report doesn’t provide race information, but the DOJ / NAACP  claims there are “significant racial disparities in student discipline” (I’m guessing the reports they saw had more detail than what is made publicly available).

The Obama DOJ and the NAACP don’t seem to care about why – they’re more interested in “eliminating racial disparities in student discipline”.  Do they mean that each time a black child is disciplined that a white child must be disciplined?  Or should discipline be meted out based on demographics:  should whites be disciplined 60% of the time to reflect the City’s racial makeup – or should whites be disciplined 48.7% of the time to reflect the racial makeup of the school system?

How about this for an out-of-the-box solution:  discipline children whose behavior warrants it, regardless of race.

Here’s some real numbers if you want to “read more”…

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Huntsville school board: elected or appointed?

Huntsville’s own renaissance man Challen Stephens of  The Huntsville Times wrote “Huntsville school board: elected or appointed?”:

“I yearn for folks with a business background being able to get involved and make these hard decisions,” said Rep. Phil Williams, R-Toney, who is leading the call to do away with the little district elections. “I’m a bit frustrated we’re to this point.”

He said the city board’s failure to plan for anticipated state budget cuts now threatens the economic health of the whole area. Williams said he is speaking to lawmakers about a proposal to place board appointments in the hands of the city council.

…”I haven’t heard an outcry from the people for changing anything,” said Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison. “They’ve certainly got problems, but it didn’t happen over night … that’s why the people elected them. They’ve got to find a way forward.”

…Madison residents may apply to serve on the board. Each year the city council screens applicants, holds public interviews, and makes one appointment.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley said the system has worked “extremely well,” as voters hold council members accountable, while “apolitical” board members are freed from the competition between different parts of the city. “We’ve done redistricting four times in the last 11 years,” he said.

“There’s a lot of people who would not feel comfortable in an election process,” said Finley on Wednesday, “but they feel very comfortable in being appointed by a city council.”

The problems with the Huntsville Housing Authority should remind us of the dangers of unelected bureaucrats and appointed boards.

I like elections.  Political Science professor and TV hunk Dr. Jess Brown of Athens State does too (was I indoctrinated during his classes?), from his discussion this morning with the “most interesting man in Alabama” Dale Jackson on WVNN (AM770 / FM92.5).  While the HCS Superintendent’s job is technocratic, I’d be in favor of an elected Superintendent (like Madison County).

I also like partisanship.  I think that municipal offices (Mayor, Council, School Board) should be elected in partisan elections.  The benefits are: cost savings from not having a separate municipal election system, greater turnout, two shots at getting the best candidate (primary and general).

“I don’t have an answer for this” except “busing”

“I don’t have an answer for this”, said Dr. John Dimmock of the NAACP, about the 40 point achievement gap between white and black students in Huntsville City Schools.

Dimmock should have stopped right there.  Even though Dimmock says he doesn’t have an answer, he recommends “busing” as THE solution.  Dimmock offered no other solutions in his presentation.

This was the second public meeting covered by The Huntsville Times where forced busing was discussed – and not reported by The Times.  Ignoring the issue will not make it go away – the NAACP seems determined to bus kids from ‘white’ schools into ‘black’ schools and vice versa.  I don’t know of a school system that has significantly improved the academic performance of students because of busing.

Since it is Black History Month, let’s recall the history of the NAACP, which was founded by socialists including Mary White Ovington and W.E.B. Dubois  in 1909.

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Lessons from Montgomery schools

Huntsville parents and citizens must be involved in developing groundrules for rezoning and school closures now; if we wait until the school board presents their plan we will lose any real chance of being heard.

Annie McCallum of the Montgomery Advertiser wrote “Turning point for MPS?  Parents, officials debate rezoning / closure plans”:

With a final public hearing Tuesday and about two weeks until a vote on the proposal, discussion has reached a fever pitch. Many are acutely aware that the system’s financial situation requires immediate changes and view the proposal as a possible turning point for a school system that both officials and parents admit needs some repairs.

“The real thing people need to understand is we have to make these changes,” Superintendent Barbara Thompson said. “We cannot stay status quo.”

…Montgomery Public Schools, like school systems across the country, faces a debilitating funding shortfall and even the closures (slated to save the district $2 million annually) won’t stop all the financial woes.

“If you close these schools, we’ll still make cuts,” Thompson said, “but if we don’t close these schools, we’ll make significantly more cuts.”

…MPS officials have said they face a swift and rigid timeline because they are trying to not renew non-tenured employees as soon as they can.

…Cox and Thompson explained that MPS can’t simply decide not to close a single school because it would have a domino effect on the entire redistricting process.[this is what I mean when I say that once the board has a plan they won't be receptive to changes]

…Like many other magnet parents, Hall is frustrated that school officials propose changing programs that have worked so well and have given national acclaim to MPS.

“The Montgomery school system does have problems,” Hall said. “They are trying to fix all the schools and they are working on it hard, but why don’t they fix what’s broken?”

…Thompson and other system officials also have insisted that despite criticism they are willing to listen and make changes. The school system has made several changes [later described as "tweaks"] to the original proposal.

…”There’s a difference between listening and doing what people want,” she said. “We can only make so many changes. [this is why getting involved early is so important]

The article includes comments from several parents:

“uncertain about keeping her children in MPS”
“parents felt blindsided by the proposed closure”
“people are fearful of speaking up”
“difficult time getting information from the school system”
“officials were not prepared for some of the questions”

On the good side:

“the proposal will return students to neighborhood schools where 90 percent of students will travel no farther than 2.5 miles to school”

I’d like to see a summit of civic associations held to discuss what we, the people want.  IMO people in North Huntsville and South Huntsville share many of the same concerns.  They also seem to share the same ‘enemy’ – both groups believe that downtown ‘Big Mules’ are playing them against each other – as has happened so often in Alabama.

Fun fact – the term Big Mule originated in Alabama to describe a coalition of agricultural and industrial elites who dominated state politics.  Big Mules “used race as a wedge”  to maintain power.

After unitary status

Someone suggested reading the North Carolina Law Review article “After Unitary Status: Examining Voluntary Integration Strategies for Southern School Districts” (link to PDF), which is written from the viewpoint that “an underlying premise of this Article is that racial integration continues to be an important goal for our public schools”.  Here are some excerpts from the 34 page article:

One of the school districts at the center of Parents Involved was Jefferson County, Kentucky.  The Jefferson County school district was under a desegregation order for several decades, and after attaining unitary status, the school district sought to maintain racially integrated schools through the use of a voluntary integration plan.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court invalidated this race-conscious plan.

…In 1968, the Supreme Court, in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, outlined more concretely the goals and benchmarks for desegregation cases… The Court found that school districts have a duty “to create a unitary, nonracial system.”  The Court in Green pointed to six areas where school systems should be made nonracial and unitary: students, faculty, staff, facilities, transportation, and extracurricular activities.

…In a series of cases in the 1990s, the Supreme Court explained that in order for a school district to demonstrate that it is entitled to have its desegregation decree lifted, the district court should examine (1) whether the school board “complied in good faith with the desegregation decree since it was entered;”  and (2) “whether the vestiges of past discrimination had been eliminated to the extent  practicable.”  In determining whether the vestiges of past discrimination have been eliminated to the extent practicable, the district court “should look not only at student assignments, but ‘to every facet of school operations—faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities and facilities.’”

…The Supreme Court’s decisions in the early 1990s cases Board of Education of Oklahoma City Public Schools v. DowellFreeman v. Pitts, and Missouri v. Jenkins  made it easier for school districts to achieve unitary status and resulted in more school districts having their desegregation decrees lifted.

…there are eighty-nine school districts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina that have had their desegregation decrees lifted from 2004 to the present. There are two important trends that are evident from these unitary status cases: the integral role of the DOJ in the cases and the racially homogenous demographics of many of these districts.

1. The Role of the Department of Justice

In many of the cases where the school district achieved unitary status since 2004, the DOJ played an integral role in having the desegregation order dissolved… [note - the authors blame George Bush]

2. Demographic Considerations in the Dissolution of Desegregation Orders

Another commonality in the recent unitary status cases in Southern states is that many of the school districts are populated predominately by one race.

…Post–unitary status school districts use four major methods of student assignment plans: attendance zones, racial diversity transfers, socioeconomic status (“SES”) transfers, and magnet schools. Student assignment plans that rely on attendance zones are plans that divide the school district along residential lines and then assign students to a school that is close to their home.  This Article uses the term “racial diversity transfer” student assignment plans to encompass all race conscious student assignment plans… The “SES diversity transfer” plans include student assignment plans where the school district allows students to transfer based on their socioeconomic status.  Some school districts that no longer use race as a factor in student assignment have begun to examine SES as a factor in student assignment to produce a more diverse learning environment…   “Magnet schools are those that offer a specialized school curriculum organized around a particular subject matter . . . or theme, or that use a distinctive teaching methodology, and seek to attract both white and minority students from all parts of the city, and away from their neighborhood schools or private schools.”

…majority-to-minority transfer provision may face a legal challenge under Parents Involved. The plurality opinion [note - the Supreme Court ruling] in the case held that the voluntary integration plans in question violated  the Equal Protection Clause because they were not narrowly tailored. The plurality [again - the Supreme Court ruling] offered a broad condemnation of the use of race in student assignment plans.

…Race-conscious student assignment plans will have to be  carefully crafted to ensure that they comply with Parents Involved.  This will likely mean that school districts crafting race-conscious student assignment plans will need considerable assistance from academics and practicing lawyers. [or better yet - don't do it and save the money for teachers]

…The DOJ should immediately end its recent practice of actively assisting school districts in achieving unitary status. [Remember which side the author is on] Without the active assistance of the DOJ, many school districts will remain under their desegregation orders.

Why should the DOJ encourage the status quo in desegregation cases? After Parents Involved, it is clear that once a desegregation case has ended, the school district will have significantly less flexibility to take affirmative steps to maintain racially integrated schools.

…The Department of Education (“DOE”) should also begin to play a more active role in this area by assisting post–unitary status school districts in developing constitutional voluntary integration policies. First, the DOE should provide funding to study voluntary integration policies that produce educational and social benefits for students. [OK, these people went way past a law review article and they're spouting talking points]

The bottom line is that Huntsville should have pursued an end to the desegregation order along with the other 89 Southern systems when it was politically easier (the number doesn’t include school systems outside the South that got out from under deseg orders - like Seattle).  I suspect that the then-school board and their attorney just weren’t interested (IIRC attorney J.R. Brooks still argues for keeping the deseg order).  The Obama Justice department may not be as helpful as the Bush DOJ, but it looks like Supreme Court decisions favor lifting the desegregation order.

SHCA School Crisis Update

I received the following update summarizing the January 25th school board work meeting from the South Huntsville Civic Association.  The (standing room only) meeting started with the presentation by Susan Salter of the results from the Alabama Association of School Boards Community Survey, then continued with board comments, then public comments, and then the Superintendent discussion.  Here’s the SHCA:

As scheduled, a school board meeting began at 4:30pm on Tuesday evening. SHCA had several representatives in attendance. The following summary is not comprehensive, but contains the items of discussion which stood out to us as issues of importance.

The meeting began with a presentation of the results from the online survey and focus group which were intended to gather community opinion in relation to qualities desired in our next Superintendant of Schools.  Based on information provided on the first slide of the presentation, 1,549 respondents participated which represents less than one percent of Huntsville’s population. Approximately 45% of respondents were employees of the school system. This survey was well intended, but the results should not be utilized as a representative sampling of Huntsville’s population.

The board next discussed the Superintendent position.

Dr. Robinson inquired about the legality of hiring an interim Superintendent. Board attorney, J.R. Brooks stated that an interim could legally be hired, but that while an interim would be seated, the board would not have solid legal authority to either fire employees or close schools. Therefore, he recommended that no interim should be hired.

The next item discussed was that of How a new (permanent) Superintendent should be hired.

David Blair made the first suggestion which was that a search firm (he prefers BWP) should be hired. Whichever search firm is hired should sift out applicants based on the results of the study mentioned earlier. The Board would then be presented with only the “top” candidates. This suggestion was met by staunch disagreement by many citizens from both North and South Huntsville who were in attendance. The objections stemmed from the realization that the study results are skewed by an imbalanced pool of participants.

Dr. Robinson agreed that using a professional firm would help the board to regain trust.

Vice President of the Board, Laurie McCaulley suggested that the board should conduct the search itself in an open manner which would allow for community input. Applications would be submitted and remain sealed until all would be opened and presented during a public meeting. This suggestion was the most transparent approach discussed.

A professional search firm representative who was in attendance spoke. He offered to withdraw his own company from consideration for the job. He also stated in no uncertain terms that a search firm would limit the pool of our best possible applicants. He suggested that no firm should be hired, and the board should conduct the search themselves.

The final “decision” was that the board would meet with two search firms at 6:30pm, Wednesday in order to get additional opinions and possibly make a decision.

This is a good writeup of the meeting, but it really doesn’t give you a feel for some of the objections to the AASB Community Survey methodology and presentation.  The survey presentation was described as “emotive, non fact-based, non-objective statements not appropriate to the conversation”.  Before I heard that objection, I had only thought of the survey as flawed and of limited value.

Even with that objection, the school board plans to use the results of the survey to develop evaluation criteria for the Superintendent search.  Note that the survey questions are fairly standard and the answers were fairly expected.  For example, the first question was about ‘the importance of successful experience’ and had 14 attributes to be ranked on a 5 point scale.  The number one attribute was ‘turnaround’ experience with 4.75 out of 5.  Number two was budget, three was ‘managing challenging academic achievement issues’, four was ‘communications’, five was ‘innovation / reform’, and so on… the lowest ranked attributes were ‘leading tax increase efforts’ and ‘working with the media’.  IMO it is not the job of the Superintendent to lead taxing efforts – that is the job of an elected official.  The AASB needs to rethink that idea if that’s what they expect of Superintendents across the State.

Board member Laurie McCaulley asked where ‘diversity’ was on the survey (even though she had seen the results on screen along with the rest of us – she was playing to her crowd).  ‘Diversity’ ranked 9th of the 14 attributes – not high on the list.

In addition to the survey, the AASB conducted Focus Groups (also with flawed methodology and execution).  However, some of the comments help inform the discussion – just like the public comments at the SHCA meeting. 

The Focus Groups were concerned: about “accountability, trust, and communication”; that the public “doesn’t receive adequate financial information”; that the system used to have a good reputation that was slipping; that parents are moving students into private schools or home-schooling “in large numbers”; that the situation needs to be resolved “quickly and decisively”; and they were “fearful that the situation facing the system will hurt its reputation”.  AASB’s Salter noted that there was “confusion among better-informed citizens” and “opposing opinions about facts”.

County Commissioner Bob Harrison responded to the survey by saying that the board needs to remember that there are “6th and 7th members of the board”  (my guess is he meant State and Feds) and that there are “many people who want the 6th and 7th members to act”.  Harrison said that “to let the State make decisions for us” is to “coward out”.  Harrison said that “both sides of town should acquiesce for the common good”.  I can see why Harrison wants citizens to “consent or comply passively or without protest”, because one of the solutions Harrison proposed is the “creation of busing”.

Mark McCarter of The Huntsville Times wrote “Survey says…”:

The task is to find the replacement for Dr. Ann Roy Moore, whose days as superintendent are coming to a close, accompanied by outcries of favoritism, inflated salaries and the inability to meet goals established at the beginning of her tenure.

Survey says: 69 percent disagree with the statement that Huntsville schools are going in the right direction.

Crystal Bonvillian of the Huntsville Times wrote “Moore remains superintendent…”:

The Huntsville school board Tuesday night backed off of plans to appoint an interim superintendent amid sobering community input that indicates a loss of faith in the board’s ability to govern.

Huntsville School Crisis Roundup

Summary:

- When State Senator Paul Sanford speaks, listen.
- Laws don’t care if you’re in a hurry.
- We’re stuck with Dr. Moore for awhile.
- The school board has an organizational problem – they are the boss(es) but there are five of them – no unity of command – the Superintendent is not the boss.
- It’s not too early to start thinking about running for school board districts 1 and 5 – the election is in 2012.
- If you think it can’t get any worse, look around.

***

I attended the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education meeting on January 20, the South Huntsville Civic Association ‘School Crisis’ meeting on 24 January, and the HCS BOE work meeting on January 25. 

You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting politicians at those meetings:  everyone from former Congressman Parker Griffith (who attended 2 of those 3 meetings) to State Senators Paul Sanford, Bill Holtzclaw, and Clay Scofield; to State Representatives Laura Hall, Mike Ball, and Howard Sanderford; to County Commissioners Phil Riddick and Bob Harrison; to Mayor Tommy Battle and Deputy Mayor Rex Reynolds and HPD Chief Mark Hudson.  Former Huntsville Times editor John Ehinger even came down the mountain to attend a meeting.

My impression is that the school board is floundering around right now – I see two school board members engaged in the crisis (David Blair and Jennie Robinson), but the rest seem to be out of touch (or to “coward out” quoting Bob Harrison).  It could be that they are content to let Blair and Robinson stand up and take the heat (which they do).  Note that Laurie McCaulley and the NAACP have a meeting scheduled for 6PM on February 1 at Rolling Hills Elementary – so we’ll see if she gets involved.  However, even Blair and Robinson don’t seem to have a full understanding of the situation (and they are the as-good-as-it-gets guys).

For example, at the SHCA meeting Sanford referred to a law that prohibited the board from appointing an interim superintendent within the 30-day notice of vacancy period.   I don’t think Blair or Robinson believed him.  Even today at the work meeting (held to discuss the appointment of an interim superintendent), school board attorney J.R. Brooks said “I don’t think he’s read it”, referring to Sanford and the law.  However, Brooks then advised the board that they couldn’t appoint an interim superintendent without creating a ”potential legal problem”.  I know Sanford well enough to know that when he speaks, listening is a good idea.

***

Timeline:

- last week the board voted to renegotiate Dr. Ann Roy Moore’s contract (worth $198,000 per year plus $800 per month car allowance plus benefits and perquisites) – Moore will be paid through December 2011.
- HCS (will) issue(d) a notice of vacancy, starting the 30-day clock for a new / interim superintendent.
- HCS must fill the position within 120 days after notice published.
- I really don’t know if this means they’ll just stick with Moore until a new Superintendent is hired or if they’ll hire an interim Superintendent to replace Moore (I imagine that the 30-day notice and 120-day clock would have to be reset to replace the interim Superintendent).
- Dr. Moore will be making near-term contract decisions (some of which can only be made in the near-term like extending principal’s contracts).
- HCS hired ‘demographer’ Steve Salmon to develop a report within 8 to 10 weeks or so; rezoning and closing decisions depend on that report (BTW Salmon was described as the former Superintendent of Dekalb (GA) County Schools – turns out Salmon was with Cobb County Schools).

I hope that the board takes part of this ‘down’ time to get with their attorneys, consultants, planners, and fellow officials to get their act together.

***

IMO the school board has an organizational problem and they are in a tough situation:  the board is elected to oversee the school system, manage the superintendent, and communicate with the public (as well as being held accountable to the public).  However, it seems like the board doesn’t have any authority to make decisions – it’s up to the Superintendent who is not accountable.  The bigger problem is that the public has no one to hold accountable – no one person is in charge – there is no unity of command.  We’ve got five people who all blame someone else (including the public – which is one of the worst moves I’ve seen lately).

One solution that has surfaced is to do away with the school board.  Here is a letter to the editor written by respected and beloved Judge Hartwell Lutz from around December 30 (tip to Redeye):

We all make mistakes; some are innocent; some are harmless. Some may even result in good. In my 24 years of elected service, as a legislator and later as a judge, I made my share of mistakes, but one of them overshadows all the others in its ultimate, time-proven harm.

So I now confess. In 1971, I was the author and sponsor of the legislation that resulted in Huntsville’s elected Board of Education. Prior to that, the board was appointed by the City Council. While all the current members of the board are fine, well-qualified people, there can be no doubt that the Huntsville school system has become politicized to the point of serious damage.

Clearly, one of the main reasons for the present $20 million financial deficit in the system is that board members didn’t want to lay people off or cut back on expenses, even though they knew a big problem was looming. That would cost them votes.

There is a high school that almost everyone agrees needs to be closed, but it won’t be any time soon because that would cost one or more board members votes. All this proves that good politics is not necessarily good government.

I don’t necessarily believe that the board is over-politicized, in fact I think that partisan elections at the municipal level would be a good thing.  But this letter was not easy for Judge Lutz to write and he illustrates my point:  the board has serious structural problems.

***

If you think it can’t get any worse, look around.  I was looking for information on the demographer – but I didn’t know his name until today so I looked up the DeKalb County School System.   Imagine my surprise when I found out that their Superintendent (and some senior Central Office staffers) were recently indicted;  no, we didn’t hire -that- guy.  However in my search I also found a blog named “DeKalb County School Watch”.  DeKalb County is undergoing rezoning, school closures, financial troubles, and academic problems – and they have a head start.  I recommend reading some of their posts to get a feel for some excellent insight into what we’re about to experience.

***

It’s late and I haven’t really written about the meetings – maybe I’ll catch up later.

It’s a management problem

“It’s not a money problem. It’s a management problem,” said Mayor Tommy Battle late Friday. “We should be able to provide excellence in education for the money we are providing them.”

And it’s a management problem we’ve known about for some time, but have done nothing to remedy.   Dr. Ann Roy Moore and many of her staffers and administrators should have been fired in 2009 after they harassed a parent (Grisham) for speaking out at a PTA meeting and then lied about it to a school board member.

A well-run, transparent, honest administration wouldn’t conduct itself in such a shabby manner.  It should be no surprise that in addition to being vicious, the school administration’s demonstrated immorality extends to putting our children’s education and our City’s economy at risk.  It is (past) time to appoint an Acting Superintendent and clean house.

The Huntsville Times Editor Kevin Wendt wrote “EDITORIAL: Financial triage for Huntsville City Schools”:

There is no single person in the Huntsville City School system’s administration or on the elected board that has the crisis management experience required to lead the system out of its current financial straits with the sense of urgency that is required.

It’s triage time. We need someone who can immediately assess the system and make fast, critical decisions to keep it alive and out of bankruptcy. Stabilizing finances now will keep the system from falling deeper into debt in the next two years, giving time for a long-term plan to be developed.

…It is clear that for years – dating back to 2005 – warnings were shared with the superintendent and board that were either not taken seriously or just plain weren’t understood.

…So the challenge to the board is this: If there is a decision that adds to the team someone who can provide direction, leadership and community-wide buy-in for difficult short-term solutions and sets the table for future plans, will you make that vote?

The community is not going to tolerate nibbling around the edges with the same folks who allowed the system to get to this point.

But with openness, the inclusion of experts and the removal of those wedded to the status quo, you have an opportunity to build the support needed to execute a plan that stabilizes Huntsville City Schools and positions it for the future.

Wendt is calling for an Acting Superintendent.

Challen Stephens of The Huntsville Times is fired up – he wrote “Who will lead Huntsville City Schools out of current financial mess?”:

It’s not OK, it’s not normal, and it’s not happening everywhere else. Huntsville City Schools appear adrift in uncharted waters, nearly $20 million in debt, facing more layoffs and more school closings.

A plan to cut spending by millions is needed within the next few months, or the system risks bankruptcy and state takeover, according to both the state and the mayor.

…But the city school board, having decided last summer not to renew the contract of the superintendent, is months away from naming a new chief. And made abundantly clear at Thursday’s board meeting was that no one within the school system has yet stepped forward to lead the spending cuts.

…But the system has slipped into a lame duck phase, with Superintendent Ann Roy Moore told she would be leaving on July 1. There is no designated leader for the future, but there is a sudden call for creative cutting and long-term planning.

…[Mayor Tommy] Battle said late Friday that the city has gotten involved, sending in the county’s former school finance director David Smith and city financial adviser Phil Dotts to offer advice. Battle said city and business leaders are concerned about leadership and that discussions have covered everything including recall elections and changing to an appointed school board.

Recall the school board?  It is legal in Alabama, but difficult (as it should be).  Chattanooga Mayor Littleton recently (Sept 2010) withstood a recall challenge in court because his opponents failed to comply with complex recall laws.  However, I’m pretty sure that there are enough lawyers in Huntsville to manage a recall properly –  and there would be no problem getting enough signatures.

Three of the five school board members were elected just a few months ago – Topper Birney and Jennie Robinson were re-elected and David Blair won an open seat.  Municipal elections for Laurie McCaulley and Alta Morrison are in two years.  Serving as a school board member is a fairly thankless and underappreciated job, but at times like these the public is held accountable for their votes – this is the school board we elected.  I hope that David Blair, the only comparatively untainted board member, will step up to the leadership challenges facing us.

Elections have consequences.

***

IIRC many years ago the schools commissioned a report that suggested sweeping changes to avoid becoming an ‘inner city’ school system.  It was ignored and we’re that much closer to having an inner city school system.  Private schools are booming, home schooling is booming, Madison City and Madison County schools are booming – and Huntsville is losing students. 

Turns out that the school administration and school board ignored another report.  Crystal Bonvillian of The Huntsville Times wrote “State official says board, city must collaborate on school system fix”:

The distress began long before last year’s hearings, however. A 2005 report by David Smith, a retired finance director for Madison County Schools, laid out the burgeoning problem.

The report, addressed to Huntsville City Schools finance director Herbert Wheeler, stated that the school system’s 2006 budget reflected a $3.74 million shortfall in its operation fund related to the opening of two new schools in the district.

A projected increase of more than 70 certified teacher units and 24 support units, without an additional source of revenue, “makes it impossible to have a balanced budget and will require almost a 50 percent reduction in your present fund balance,” Smith wrote at the time.

Smith also pointed out that the system was using too much of its general fund to pay personnel costs and that, for the 2006 fiscal year, the system had 321 local teaching units that that would cost $16 million in local dollars.

“You cannot afford to fund this many (teacher) units,” Smith wrote.

…In Smith’s 2005 review of the school system’s facilities, he warned of the problems caused by building new schools without taking any of the older schools out of the picture.

David Smith just joined Mary Jane Caylor on my list of potential Acting Superintendents.

We’ll start the process for you

Dr. Craig Pouncey of the State Department of Education says that if the Huntsville City School system waits too long to start the process of making cuts, he will “start the process for you.”

The Huntsville City Schools are in a terrible position:  decisions must be made quickly that will affect the entire City for decades; my guess is that they have about a month;  and our current leadership pretty much stinks.

It is clear to me that Dr. Ann Roy Moore is a failure as Superintendent.  Dr. Moore should be removed from the decision-making process.  The Board of Education should appoint an Acting Superintendent – I suggest outgoing State Board of Education member Mary Jane Caylor (or someone like her) – to help develop and implement the hard decisions to be made (closing about 10 schools and firing hundreds of people and rezoning).

Raising taxes shouldn’t even be considered.  Does anyone believe that they could sell a tax increase to the citizens of Huntsville (or Madison County) given the proven fiscal irresponsibility of the school system?  Trying to PR the system out of the crisis won’t work either – holding a few public hearings or creating a citizen’s advisory committee isn’t going to work.  Business as usual is unacceptable.

Crystal Bonvillian of The Huntsville Times wrote “School closures, layoffs likely solutions to school debt”:

Deep in debt, the Huntsville school system must make immediate changes in the way it spends money. And that could mean closing as many as 10 more neighborhood schools this summer, as well as laying off hundreds more teachers and support workers in coming months.

“If we don’t do something now, someone will have to put a sign out on the front lawn that says ‘Bankrupt,’” said Dr. Craig Pouncey, deputy state superintendent of education.

…school board member David Blair told the audience that closing schools and rezoning the school district should be the next step as the school system struggles to work its way out of $19.5 million in debt.

BTW I applaud David Blair for talking to the press on record – unfortunately, he takes some heat because of that (you don’t stand up, you don’t get shot).

City leaders know that this crisis is having an impact on local business – for example, think of the realtors trying to sell houses.  Right now, a realtor doesn’t know in which school district a house might be rezoned.  Madison City and Madison County may look pretty good by comparison to home buyers.

As difficult as this period will be, I think that the school system has a chance to emerge stronger.  It will certainly be leaner (but I don’t have much confidence yet that the layoffs will keep good teachers and remove underperforming teachers).  The City should began the process of getting out from under the Federal Desegregation order – that and No Child Left Behind limit effective and efficient decision-making.

Let’s hope that citizens will be more aware and engaged in the school system – note that I don’t limit this to parents – the school system for too long has ignored the community as a whole (and been ignored back).  As was shown with the HHA actions, just letting government hum along by itself will guarantee problems.

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“Board shelves proposed school uniform policy”

Parents in attendance were against school uniforms, despite a poll conducted last summer that indicated 55 percent of those asked were in favor of a uniform policy.

Regardless of the (flawed) poll, school uniforms are a bad idea – they do not improve student performance (see “Brunsma”).  Uniforms are a feel good solution that don’t work.