Pinnacle dismantles special needs program; contract dispute continues

Pinnacle dismantles special needs program; contract dispute continues
Huntsville city school board discusses future of Pinnacle contract (Source: WAFF)
Huntsville city school board discusses future of Pinnacle contract (Source: WAFF)
Karen Lee, CEO (Source: Pinnacle Schools)
Karen Lee, CEO (Source: Pinnacle Schools)
Pinnacle letter to parents (Source: Pinnacle Schools)
Pinnacle letter to parents (Source: Pinnacle Schools)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - In the latest move behind a contract dispute between Huntsville City Schools and its alternative school, Pinnacle Schools, several students under Pinnacle's services have been sent back to their designated school.

Concerned parents contacted WAFF 48 on Thursday about special needs students being told to return home and that services were no longer going to be provided by Pinnacle Schools.

Pinnacle's CEO Karen Lee notified the district on Tuesday that she has been forced to dismantle its special needs program called HI-5 because of lack of funding from the district.

HI-5 was created in 2013.

"This is a contract dispute that should have be resolved six weeks ago," said Lee.

For six weeks, the district and Pinnacle have been in talks about their current contract and what financial commitments were made to provide services to the district to house students with behavioral issues and those that require more resources like special needs students.

READ MORE: Pinnacle Schools contract review pulled from HCS board agenda

"This is a breach of contract and with the district's refusal to make a payment on our invoices. We were getting to the point where we can no longer provide our services to the district," said Lee.

Huntsville City Schools received a bill from Pinnacle Schools that totals up to $300,000 for services used in April, May, August and September.

The board elected to terminate the APP program in early October after this discovery.

Lee said payments for every program offered by Pinnacle, including the HI-5 program and APP, were either in writing or verbally agreed upon with the district's CFO, Jason Taylor and Deputy Superintendent Barbara Cooper.

A letter to parents, Lee and other Pinnacle leaders said students in Hi-5, APP and the Credit Recovery Program would be sent back to their home schools as of Thursday. That letter reads in part:

The dispute is over the cost of the programs. After the Superintendent resigned HCS reported that the cost was not acceptable and the programs listed above were not included in the initial contract. The only program in the initial contract was the Raise Program which includes students that are found guilty at the HCS hearing panel. HCS has been approving payment for Hive Five, Credit Recovery, 30 day transitions and Administrative Promotions for 3 years without question. All of the students, special education and regular, in our specific programs have special needs and we have successfully met those needs.

WAFF broke the news of the abrupt resignation of former Superintendent Casey Wardynski before the school board was set to approve Pinnacle's invoices. Our questions revealed Wardynski is in a romantic relationship with Pinnacle CEO, Karen Lee.

"This is a personal attack on me, but these students are at stake," said Lee. "I have done everything the district has asked me to do."

Lee claims those invoices were presented to the board on a monthly basis and were certified for the past three years.
"I have provided exceptional services at an excellent cost for five years to the Huntsville School district," said Lee.

Students who are involved in the RAISE program will remain in Pinnacle Schools through the completion of their contract with Huntsville City Schools July 31st.

"I would take these children back tomorrow, they were not receiving complaints, this was not a broken program," said Lee.

A Huntsville City Schools representative said the school district has the resources to fulfill the need for all of its students after Pinnacle's decisions.

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