The HCS Checkbook

So the Huntsville City Schools passed its 2012 budget on September 8. Geekpalaver reports there was one question from the public: “Could I get a copy of the final budget?”. How, exactly, the public is supposed to ask questions or comment intelligently on documents before they can read them remains a mystery.

Totally worthless other than as an exercise in cultivating indignation is reviewing the Huntsville City Schools’ check registers posted on-line. Worthless because the monies have been spent. Intriguing, nonetheless.

Here are some things that interested me, looking back from January to July of 2011.


Shop for Office Supplies — at the Hilton Garden Inn????  

Get your Print Job Done — at the Country Club????

I don’t know about you, but Wal-mart or Staples is where I shop for office supplies. It never would occur to me that I might be able to get a better deal at the Hilton. But that’s where the HCS spent $2,176.58 on office supplies, according to page 10 of the May check register.

After shopping at the Hilton, I might buzz over to check out what’s on offer at the Huntsville Country Club, where the HCS spent  $3551.42 on non-instructional supplies, printing and binding in April (p. 14).


Got to Pay Jennie’s Dues


This may be totally legit. If so, it still raises interesting questions. The HCS cut Board member Jennie Robinson a check for $655 for “other dues and fees” in January 2011 (p. 17). None of the other four Board members received reimbursement for “dues and fees.”

I can think of two reasons for this. One is that JR is a star Board member, belonging to all the right Board professional organizations, and the other four are all slackers. Very possibly true.

Two is that the “fees and dues” JR got reimbursed for are not directly relevant to her service on the Board, and that is why the other four weren’t similarly cut checks for $655 each.

If these fees are for organizations directly relevant to her service on the Board, good for her. But not all professional groups would fit that criteria. For example, let’s say an electrical engineer were elected to the Board. He shouldn’t expect his IEEE dues to be paid, because membership in the IEEE isn’t  relevant to serving on the Board.

Of course, there is no point in simply asking her at the next Board meeting, since Board members don’t answer questions from the public.


Q: How Many Consultants Does It Take to Screw in the Proverbial Lightbulb?           

A: As Many as You Are Willing to Pay


First, remember that $70,000 so-called Demographer’s Report? The utterly worthless insult to the Huntsville taxpayers? It really cost $70,656.50. In March, a check was cut to Steve Salmon’s Gude Management Group for $37,669.76, followed by one for $32,986.74 in April. And remember in June the Board voted to pay Salmon’s boss at Education Planners, James Wilson, $3000 to attend the community meetings in place of the pseudo-demographer? Turns out that Wilson was really paid $4,692.60, funneled through Gude. Total amount blown on that fiasco: $75,349.10.

A modest proposal: Until the HCS is in the black, no more consultants.

  • No consultants from California to play party games with the superintendent and Board (“During a more light-hearted exercise, each participant at the retreat had to anonymously write down a secret detail about their lives and the others had to guess which participant the secret was about.”). When the August check register appears, we’ll find out how much that day in the (Burritt) park cost.
  • No consultants from Georgia to cut and paste freely available documents together and call it a study.
  • If the five Board members can’t handle their responsibilities without having their hands held, then they should resign.
  • Surely with five aides, Dr. Wardynski doesn’t need any more consultants.

Well, that’s enough for today’s exercise in futility. Bounce on over to the HCS Finance Report and find your own favorites.


4 thoughts on “The HCS Checkbook

  1. Russ, if u are attending the mtg 10/11, is it possible for u to type a bulleted list of citizens comment questions to be distributed to those in attendance that evening? It could include: why the new “because we aren’t being sued” (yet) method of evaluation is acceptable; why the central office is expanding (aides to dr. W, 2 directors of elementary Ed, etc) but teachers are making the state minimum; why all of the right people have come from Aurora; why each of them has had a salary approved by the board making more than the advertised salary and without discussion at the board mtgs; why they keep having these special mtgs where the public can not attend, etc??? Your blog has been mentioned in several public sources lately (Congrats To u!!!) but the public needs to know this info and hold the entire board accountable. The situation is getting worse by the day and will continue until they are forced to stop this behavior and focus on children. None of the decisions he and the board have made have been about the kids. It’s been a out deception, hiring aides, demeaning/intimidating his current work force, and hiring his friends.

    Can u do that???

    See for more information on Dr. W and that pitiful Board of Education!!!

  2. “Of course I did not know at the time that the board would be approving the budget in a mere hour.”

    As you said previously, what good would it have done you to have the information prior to the board meeting when members don’t have to answer questions from the public in public? This board doesn’t conduct public business in public and it ought to be against the law. Oh wait….

  3. Great Post as always. Concerning the Demographer’s report: So we spent $75k on a report that was highly questionable in the first place, did little to nothing but enrage the public, was defended by two consultants and a superintendent who had been fired, was dismissed by individual board members when they were asked about it as being “insufficient for basing a decision on,” and was finally rejected by Dr. Wardynski on September 1st when he said that we were not going to close schools.

    While I applaud Wardynski for coming out and saying this, there is now no defense for having spent this $75,000.

    None. And it seems that the board who approved it knew this long ago.

    Concerning the lack of questions about the budget:

    On September 1, the public was told to email Spinelli and his staff with questions that they have by Tuesday, September 6th (you know the day after the long Labor day weekend), and that the meeting on September 8th would response to these questions. The impression they left with me was that they would compile the questions into a Q&A type presentation.

    I emailed a question on Wednesday, September 7th requesting a comparison between the 2011 and 2012 budgets specifically in the area of Special Education.

    On Thursday, September 8th I received two emails from Mr. Terry. The first one came in at 10:48 that morning. It said that with the hectic pace they are under getting ready for the evening’s budget hearing that they would not be able to provide me with an answer to my question until the following week.

    Then later that day, at 4:57, I received a second email from Mr. Terry stating that since he and Mr. Spinelli would be out of town this coming week for training, could he have until the week of the 19th to get me the requested information? He thanked me for my patience.

    Of course I did not know at the time that the board would be approving the budget in a mere hour.

    I’m hopeful that I’ll hear back from Mr. Terry the week of the 19th with the data I requested.

    There was no Q&A presented during the second budget hearing on September 8th. The only question was about getting a completed handout as the one they had for distribution did not include many of the slides presented during the hearing.

    Immediately after that question, Mr. Birney adjourned the budget hearing.

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