HISD’s budget and magnet meeting

A whole lot happened on Thursday evening with HISD.

Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier proposed a major shake-up Thursday night to the district’s popular magnet program, calling for 25 schools to lose the special status and for funding increases or reductions in others.

“This stands to change the landscape of the entire Houston Independent School District,” Trustee Anna Eastman said at a meeting packed with more than 300 parents, students and teachers who showed up to lobby for their schools.

In a three-hour presentation, Grier’s administration also laid out several controversial cost-cutting moves, such as changing bus schedules, closing four small schools and ending the college-readiness program Project GRAD.

McDade, Grimes, Rhoads and Love elementary schools would have to close their doors this fall under the plan.

Grier’s proposal to end the magnet programs at 25 schools scales back the massive cuts recommended in January by consultants hired by the school board. The $269,000 audit by Magnet Schools of America proposed eliminating 55 of the 113 magnet programs.

Trustee Harvin Moore called Grier’s magnet plan “way better” than the audit but expressed concerns about proposed funding reductions to many of the Vanguard schools, which serve gifted children. Moore and a few other trustees asked that final decisions about the magnet schools not be rushed at a meeting set for next week.

“I don’t think one week is enough time for the board or the public, who we report to, to look at this,” Moore said, prompting applause from the audience.

I recommend you read Ericka Mellon’s liveblog of the proceedings for a more comprehensive blow-by-blow account of what happened. There’s a whole lot to digest, and it’s hard to say how much of it will get modified or dropped as a result of a changing budget picture – the operating assumption was that the state would cut public education by $5 billion for the biennium, not $10 billion, so the assumptions made in their budget are more likely to be too optimistic than too pessimistic – or pushback from parents and trustees. And as Hair Balls makes clear, to a large degree what the Board can do is constrained by what the Legislature may or may not do.

Throughout the recommendation, Moore reiterated to the audience that the budget cuts were being made because of a failure of the state to shore up money for HISD, not because of money mismanagement at the school district level.

“Whatever we come up with, we want to make sure we convey to the state what will happen if they don’t act,” he said. Melinda Garrett agreed. “We have to wait. If we don’t, everyone in Austin will think we just rolled over,” she said. The school board said they are lobbying in Austin for more funding.

Other ways to scrounge for HISD include increasing taxes and reducing the homestead exemption, which could create $23 million by cutting it five percent. But Moore warned that once homeowners and taxpayers agreed to take on the state’s financial responsibility, there would be no going back. Another way would be to temporarily cut the salaries of teachers, but such a measure is illegal in Texas.

“You can’t touch any teacher salaries, and that’s the bulk of the money in this district,” Garrett said.

All the more reason to get involved now, and make sure your voice is heard.

Beyond that, the main thing that concerns me is the proposed change to school start times, which would greatly affect our morning routine along with everybody else’s. Take a look at the liveblog and the documents it contains to see how you and your school may be affected, and give feedback to your trustee. The West U Examiner has a good writeup as well. What do you think about all this?

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