Huntsville City Schools interim superintendent addresses Pinnacle concerns

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville City Schools interim superintendent Tom Drake said at a Board of Education meeting Thursday that there's a dispute between Pinnacle Schools and the school system about their contract.

He already ended the Assignment for Positive Progress program, a Pinnacle program that was designed to transition at-risk students from alternative school back into their regular classrooms. Thursday night he upheld that decision, noting some concerns.

"[My team] didn't have a full understanding of the ramification or the involvement of the program or the financial obligations," he explained.

He said he's concerned about the money the school system has been paying Pinnacle. He didn't allege overcharging, stating he won't make allegations without having the facts. Instead, he noted those facts are what HCS attorneys are chasing.

"My team is investigating the facts of whether or not the contract between us and this company shows overbilling. I have concerns about the money that we have paid."

He later added, "We found that what they charged us and what we feel like we owe is the difference."

He sums it up to a contract problem, saying each party interpreted their agreement differently.

"They believe in one thing and I will share with you, we look at it a different way," Drake said.

WHNT News 19 spoke with Pinnacle Schools CEO Karen Lee about the invoices in question exclusively Tuesday. During that conversation, she said she has not overbilled and believes APP was pulled from schools for personal reasons. She has not yet responded to Drake's comments Thursday, telling us she was not able to make it to the board meeting because she was out of town. Lee said APP provided a service to the district that the district cannot do better or cheaper.

Drake said the school system will not bring in an independent auditor to handle the invoices and billing between Pinnacle and Huntsville City Schools. He believes this is a contract issue and an auditor's services are not needed.

"It's not necessary for an outside auditor to come in. The numbers in this case are not a mystery," he said. "We see the numbers. We know where we're invoiced, we know when we were invoiced, and we know how we were invoiced. We know what we paid. The issues in this case pertains to the terms of the contract between the parties, and the actions of Huntsville City Schools staff. An auditor would not help us resolve that contractual or factual issues I'm working to resolve."

Huntsville City Schools did not vote to pay the invoices Thursday, in which Pinnacle is billing for nearly $300,000 in services rendered between April and September. Drake said he stopped the APP program before October so they would not be billed any more.

"I'm not going to waste your money. That's the bottom line, folks," said Drake.

Huntsville City Schools is currently handling the services APP did, in-house. Tom Drake said the students are important, and they will do all they can to give them the support they need.

"Folks, we remain dedicated to these young people. For them to succeed inside and outside our classrooms. And we believe our plan will accomplish this," he said.

Attorneys are now involved. Both sides have told WHNT News 19 separately that they would like to see a resolution.