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Will HISD close low-enrollment schools?

As if there weren’t enough politically charged agenda items out there for next year.

Like dozens of campuses in the Houston Independent School District, Jones is losing students and brimming with empty seats. HISD trustees must make politically tough choices about such campuses: Should they be closed, merged, left alone or overhauled with more popular programs?

Superintendent Terry Grier’s administration last week released a list of 66 campuses with low student enrollments. They’re not all expected to be closed — that would mean shutting down one-fifth of the district’s 300 schools — but they’re under review.

“We’re not closing 66 schools,” Grier said. “We are trying to look at, do we have school buildings that are underutilized, and how can we either encourage parents to send their children to school there or, if not, does it make financial sense to merge those schools with others nearby?”

HISD Trustee Paula Harris was more blunt.

“We know we can’t keep all 66 of these schools,” she said. “Everyone’s not going to be happy, including myself, because it’s going to be tough.”

Texas Watchdog has a list of the schools in question. I note with some interest that Hogg Middle School, to which we are zoned, is on that list. Let’s stipulate right off that even if closure and consolidation were the only possible outcomes, only a fraction of these schools would be wiped out. The students have to go somewhere, and given that HISD thinks the remaining campuses have “enough” students on them, they’d mostly likely be divvied up among these same schools, much like a disbursement draft in a sports league after a franchise has folded. Presuming that some schools will be impractical to close for historic or geographic reasons, and given that some of them on this list are already working on attracting new students to them, I’d guess that a max of about 12 to 15 campuses are truly in peril. That’s still a lot of potential pain.

HISD spends about $10 million a year to boost the budgets of most of the 66 low-enrollment schools plus 21 others it considers small. Because HISD funds its schools on a per-pupil basis, those with low enrollments struggle to afford extras such as art and music teachers.

Hector Mireles, who represents HISD employees, said he worries the district will target high-minority schools for closure.

“I’m against closing any schools,” said Mireles, the president of Texas Support Personnel Employees Local 1. “If we’re in the interest of trying to save the children, we feel other budget cuts could be made.”

Arguably, consolidation is a better outcome for the kids, since it would allow them to go to schools that have more programs. All things being equal, consolidation is a much more efficient allocation of resources. Given that support personnel would surely be axed as a result of that – teachers would generally get reassigned, to ensure that classroom size limits are met, but there’s only so much space available for secretaries, librarians, counselors, custodians, and so forth – I can certainly understand Mr. Mireles’ position. As Trustee Harris says, this is going to suck for everyone.

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One Comment

  1. One issue is that demographics are changing and the movement to the more urban parts of the city is only going to grow. It would be very short-sighted to actually sell any of these campuses, knowing that sooner or later we’re going to need them.