Those HCS Collateral Costs

My modem and router were fried in the storm Sunday night, but I’m back now, and I want to tell you a few of my reactions to “Collateral costs to change Huntsville superintendents, erase debt reach $300,000″ by Crystal Bonvillian in the Huntsville Times Monday July 11, 2011.

Those who have followed my recent posts on the so-called demographer’s so-called study the HCS Board seems to find just hunky dory will have no trouble imagining my reaction to this:

“Dr. Ed Richardson, a former state superintendent who has served as a consultant to the system, has recommended that the board continue Salmon’s contract so he could help compile additional data needed to determine which schools should close.”

All I can figure is that Richardson sees big bucks in his own future if he can get more of these consultancy gigs and is hoping for James Wilson’s Education Planners or Salmon’s Gude Management Group to be sending some lucrative contracts his way. However, the future might not be so bright for Gude, where Salmon is Senior Vice President. It “was named in a May 2010 RICO indictment in DeKalb County, Georgia.”

This same Salmon character managed not to answer any questions about his so-called study. Bonvillain notes:

“James Wilson, a colleague of Salmon’s, will also be paid $3,000 for filling in for Salmon as moderator of five community hearings on the proposed school closures. Salmon was on an extended vacation with his family at the time.”

Ms. Bonvillian, we need to have a little talk about the difference between being a recorder and being a reporter. Reporters ask questions. For example:

  • Was attending these 5 hearings a part of Salmon’s contract?
  • If not, why not?
  • If so, shouldn’t he have a) declined the job if his holiday plans couldn’t be changed, or b) changed his holiday plans? And if the Board agreed that in spite of it being Salmon’s responsibility to attend the meetings that he could send Wilson in his place, shouldn’t Salmon, and not the Board, have had to cough up the $3000 substitute fee?

Now let’s look at this [note to Ms. Bonvillian: good work here — this is what we want more of]:

“The associated costs here do not include the $277,536 in attorney’s fees the system has paid to law firm Lanier, Ford, Shaver and Payne since the beginning of the 2011 fiscal year.

“A portion of that was pay for J.R. Brooks, the longtime board attorney, to defend the system against a lawsuit filed by three fired principals in March as the system began to cut staff. . . .

“A Madison County Circuit Court judge last month ruled against the school system. . . “.

I think it is safe to assume that the Board ran their decision to fire these 3 past their “longtime board attorney” who I assume is paid for his advice and that he must have said go for it. Then the HCS gets sued, and the firm where Brooks is a shareholder gets a $277,536 fee to defend the system, and it loses.

What a deal! Get paid for your advice, give bad advice that gets your employer sued, then sit back while the firm where you work gets paid to deal with the fall-out from your bad advice.  Now if he had given good advice, in line with what a Madison County Circuit Court judge found to be legal, his firm would’ve missed out on that $277,536. Does no one else see a problem here? Maybe in the future it would be a good policy not to give work to a firm in which the school board attorney is a shareholder when the board’s attorney’s recommendations are challenged. It just doesn’t look too good.

Finally, I have a suggestion regarding this:

“The $300,000 figure also includes the approximately $99,000 the system will pay to keep Moore on as a consultant for the next six months. The board agreed earlier this year that Moore would step down as soon as the new superintendent was in place, but would stay on in whatever capacity the new schools leader saw fit.”

Now she is being paid to sit at home. But if that “whatever capacity the new schools leader saw fit” means what it says, well, maybe she could be a bus aide consultant for the first semester. Ride the buses, report back on how the kids behave, the tolerance levels of drivers, what kind of infractions should warrant 3-day suspension, etc. And this exercise in consultancy — one that might possibly even be useful — wouldn’t cost the HCS a cent.

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