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HISD lays off teachers, discusses school closures

We knew this was coming. There may yet be more of it to come.

Officials with the Houston Independent School District announced Tuesday that about 730 teachers have been notified they won’t have jobs next year — because of budget cuts or poor performance.

Like many districts across Texas, HISD is purging jobs and possibly closing schools to save money amid a state funding shortfall. But HISD leaders have coupled those cuts with a rare, aggressive approach to weeding out teachers deemed ineffective.

“This is about helping teachers improve, but it’s also about being responsible to students to ensure that each of them has an effective teacher,” said Ann Best, HISD’s human resources chief.

The district so far has eliminated 567 teaching jobs because of budget constraints and fired 163 teachers for poor performance, according to preliminary data released Tuesday. The cuts represent about 6 percent of HISD’s teachers and do not include voluntary resignations and retirements, according to Best.

District officials emphasized that the numbers could change as the budget process continues.

I say again, remember that HISD is operating under the assumption that the budget cuts will be about half as severe as what’s in the current House budget. You may be wondering what the effect of Texas receiving the $830 million in federal money that had previously been unavailable to it. The answer is, in effect, “nothing”, because the Senate was already factoring it in.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the senators have been struggling to find new nontax dollars to help them pay for $5.3 billion in school aid that they recently added to their initial bare-bones version of the 2012-13 budget.

This change frees up $830 million for the 2012-13 budget that will go toward — but not add to — the $5.3 billion, Shapiro said. She said that will save teacher jobs, just as last year’s legislation intended.

In other words, the Senate Education Committee said “We’re going to restore $5.3 billion to education on top of what the House provides. Now we just have to figure out where to find that money.” The $830 million that Texas may now get merely covers some of that still-hot check. That’s a very good thing, but it’s not anything new. Note also that the Senate budget is slightly better than the scenario for which HISD is preparing, meaning that HISD would be able to restore some of its cuts if the current Senate version of the budget is adopted. There would still be a lot of cuts, just slightly less than what they’re now planning to make.

HISD also could see fewer schools next year. Grier said this week that he will consider closing or merging up to 17 of the district’s 300 schools.

He will review elementary schools with fewer than 400 students and middle schools under 500. Many have space for far more students but aren’t drawing them.

With HISD reducing its funding to its schools, Grier said he worries those with low enrollment won’t be able to deliver a good education. HISD funds each campus based on its student count.

You can see a full list of schools being considered for closure or consolidation at School Zone. This sort of thing is always very unpopular, and there has been a fair amount of pushback, especially from Love Elementary in my neighborhood. My guess is that the Board will delay taking action on this for as long as it can.

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