HISD girds for budget cuts

Welcome to the job, Ken Huewitt. Isn’t this fun?


Houston’s deputy superintendent on Thursday presented the school board with the deepest round of proposed budget cuts since 2011, leaving principals to decide between slashing staff, supplies, field trips or other activities.

Ken Huewitt, who transitions to interim superintendent next week, called for teachers’ jobs to be spared but said an undetermined number of other positions – some vacant – may be lost to curb a projected $107 million shortfall driven by the state’s funding system.

“These cuts will affect the campuses. There’s no way around that,” Huewitt told the board.

Each school in the state’s largest district would lose $179 per pupil – the equivalent of three employees at a 1,000-student campus – and funding for gifted students would drop.

The proposed cuts also target some of the Houston Independent School District’s major reform efforts, indicating a shift at the end of outgoing Superintendent Terry Grier’s six-and-a-half-year tenure. For example, the teacher bonus program, once heralded as among the nation’s largest, would all but end, with the last payouts in early 2017.

In addition, the extra money allocated for tutoring and longer hours at a few dozen low-performing campuses, part of Grier’s signature turnaround program, now would be spread across the district.

That change, meant to help a greater number of troubled students despite budget woes, would increase the amounts for low-income or at-risk children by $88, to $352 per pupil. Funding for each homeless or refugee student would jump more than $500 to $704. The figures vary slightly for middle and high schools.

Campuses, however, would receive half as much for each gifted student, falling to $211. Huewitt’s proposal did not address whether magnet schools that serve gifted students – some of the district’s most popular – would keep the $410 they get on top of the basic allotment.


HISD’s expected budget shortfall stems largely from a key provision of the state’s school-funding system. For the first time, HISD expects to join Spring Branch, La Porte and some 240 other districts deemed so property-rich that they must forfeit money to the state to help those with less wealth. HISD had avoided this status with help from state lawmakers over the years, but this time legislators did not agree to raise the payback threshold enough to counter the district’s still-rising property values.

A 2014 court decision declared the state’s overall school-finance system unconstitutional. The Texas Supreme Court is weighing an appeal from the state, so no immediate financial relief is expected.

In the Houston region, the Spring Branch Independent School District is the largest system that this year had to send money back to the state under the so-called Robin Hood, or recapture, system. The district, in west Houston, forfeited $8 million in 2015. Officials expect the amount to quadruple to $35 million in the coming year due to the strong housing market and business redevelopment, said Karen Wilson, associate superintendent for finance.

Like I said, things are tough all over. The Lege and the hot real estate market got HISD into this predicament, and the best hope to get them out of it is a good ruling from the Supreme Court. Honestly, this is a good illustration of why our school finance system is so screwed up. It’s just too dependent on local taxes. The state has gradually shrunk its own responsibility for paying for schools. That needs to stop, and the idea that we can educate our growing population of schoolchildren, many of whom have needs that require extra resources, for the 21st century and with ever-increasing standards on the cheap has to stop with it. In all things in life, you get what you pay for. The Lege and the Supreme Court need to recognize that. A statement from Mayor Turner, who knows a thing or two about the school finance system, is here.

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