HISD faces major changes

This is a very big story, but a key component to it is not discussed here.

Houston ISD officials said Saturday the district will need to cut about $200 million from its 2018-19 budget to bring spending in line with an increasingly gloomy financial outlook.

In an equally momentous move, Houston ISD officials also proposed far-reaching changes to how the district operates its magnet and school choice systems, some of the boldest moves to date by second-year Superintendent Richard Carranza.

Still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, Houston Independent School District officials revealed at a board meeting Saturday that the district is facing a double whammy: A multimillion-dollar, state-mandated “recapture” payment requiring districts with high property values to “share the wealth,” and an expected drop in enrollment and tax revenue because of the devastating storm, which severely damaged schools and delayed the start of classes by two weeks.

The proposed cuts come at an inopportune time, with the district battling to stave off a potential state takeover because of 10 chronically under-performing schools.

Although the measures outlined Saturday are preliminary and could change significantly before HISD’s board votes on them, officials acknowledged that the district is entering an uncertain time.

“It’s a sea change for HISD,” said Rene Barajas, the district’s chief financial officer. “But at the end of the day, from a budgetary perspective, we’re still going to get the job done. It’s just going to be harder.”

There’s a lot more and there’s too much to adequately summarize, so go read the rest. We know about the recapture payments, which even though they have been reduced due to Harvey are still significant. We know HISD has been talking about revamping its magnet programs for some time, and there’s a cost-savings component to that as well. We know that property values and enrollment have been affected by Harvey, and we know how daily attendance determines the amount of money the district gets from the state. So none of this is a surprise, though having to deal with all of it at once is a big shock.

What’s missing from this article is any mention of what the state could and should do to help ameliorate this blow. I think everyone agrees that if a school building is destroyed by a catastrophic weather event, it should be rebuilt via a combination of funding sources, mostly private insurance and emergency allocations from the state. Why shouldn’t that also apply to the secondary effects of that same catastrophe? It’s not HISD’s fault that its revenues, both from taxes and from state appropriations, will be down. There needs to be a mechanism to at least soften, if not remove, this burden. Bear in mind that one reason why the drop in property values is such a hit is because the state has shoved more and more of the responsibility for school finance on local districts. If Harvey had happened even a decade ago, the appraisal loss would still be felt, but not by as much. That’s not HISD’s doing, it’s the Legislature’s and the Governor’s and the Lieutenant Governor’s, all with the approval of the Supreme Court.

But what can be done can be undone. With little to no pain on its part, the Lege could tap into the Rainy Day Fund to get HISD past the worst of this, or it could recognize that the nearly one billion it appropriated last session for “border security” is little more than macho posturing, an endless boondoggle for a handful of sheriffs, and an sharp increase in traffic citations, and redirect some of that money to HISD and any other district in similar straits. There are other things the Lege could do, but all of it starts with the basic principle that the Lege should do something to help out here. When are we going to talk about that?

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7 Responses to HISD faces major changes

  1. Manny Barrera says:

    The Republican controlled Texas government does not believe in public education, there are exceptions, but I don’t expect them to come in save the day.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    HISD had all the money in the world when they spent millions changing school names. How quickly the mighty have fallen. And I still don’t understand the blame game with Robin Hood. Aren’t we supposed to be for wealth redistribution? The least HISD could do is suffer in silence, secure in the knowledge that helping those poor brown kids in rural areas is more noble than helping the kids of all colors in Houston. The Lord loves a cheerful giver, right HISD?

    My final thought here is, the lower taxes generated by ruined homes and businesses won’t even be felt until NEXT January, as taxes are paid for 2018. Property owners will pay the full freight for 2017, because on January 1 2017, the taxation date of record, the hurricane hadn’t destroyed anything.

    Belt tightening should be planned now. Speaking of, why doesn’t HISD have a rainy day fund? I have one. The state has one. Maybe HISD should think about doing that, too.

  3. Anna says:

    Also, everyone has overlooked that the board passed a budget funding pay increases with a 100 + million dollar deficit last year.

  4. Anna says:

    Just reading that comment about rainy day fund. HISD does have one, its just been tapped to pay for recurring budget increases, etc. no more money there.

  5. Anna, I’m referring to the state’s rainy day fund, as a way to mitigate this Harvey-abetted problem.

  6. Greg Shaw says:

    District had has dropping enrollment numbers for some time.
    That has a major effect on funding.
    When I taught there I described their campuses as “bully empowerment zones.”
    If folks can keep their kids out of hisd they will

  7. Pingback: HISD’s plan to avoid state takeover – Off the Kuff

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