I think the answer is still mostly No, but there’s some nuance to that.
The Houston Independent School District board met Thursday to discuss potential cuts to the district’s $2.2 billion budget as it faces a growing a growing deficit and a looming takeover by the Texas Education Agency.
Superintendent Millard House II has already walked back plans to slash school budgets by roughly $40 million after an outcry from the Board of Trustees, which insisted against campus-level cuts. That leaves cuts of just $15.3 million to the HISD central office with the district facing a projected $118 million deficit that could rise to $258 million by the 2024-2025 school year, as enrollment drops and pandemic-related funds dry up.
Most of those $15.3 million in savings would come from closing unfilled positions. The district had previously proposed reducing small school subsidies and high school allotments, along with returning to an attendance-based school funding policy that was suspended due to COVID-19, before those suggestions were nixed by the board.
HISD expects enrollment to continue to decline by nearly 3 percent between this school year and the next, from roughly 189,000 students to 184,000. The district’s enrollment has already fallen by about 31,000 students since the 2016-2017 school year, according to HISD data.
“As enrollment declines, that’s an impact to our revenues. That’s less money coming in than we have to be able to spend,” said Jim Grady, a consultant who presented the proposed budget to the board.
It’s not clear how the impending state takeover will affect the budgeting process, but the local board is moving forward with their plan to lay out a financial plan as normal. Another, final budget workshop is scheduled for May 18.
See here for some background. I’ve spoken in favor of the Board doing as little as possible in the time it has left, so as to leave the difficult and surely unpopular decisions that will need to be made about the looming deficit and the likely need to close some schools (seriously, what are we doing about that enrollment drop?) to the unelected overlords who will soon have to run the place. But maybe that’s too simple. Maybe it’s better to do at least some of the easier and more straightforward things on their own, in part because they will be done anyway and in part to perhaps head off some weird directions that the Board of Managers could take if given full discretion over these initial conditions. Give them slightly less room to do things we wouldn’t have considered, as well as less room to build up political capital for making the “hard” choices that really aren’t that hard. The Board of Trustees exists as a decision-making entity until June 1, and the district needs to pass a budget by June 30. My position is maybe more in flux now than it was before, but I’m still comfortable saying to the Board to not overthink this. Do the easy things, and pass on the rest.