Houston Schools Look to Cut $200 Million From Budget

Connexeo - 03/08/2018

A school district with declining enrollment and 10 campuses consistently ranked as underperforming can hardly afford budget cuts, much less trim $200 million from the ledger for the 2018-19 school year.

But that’s exactly what Houston Independent School District administrators proposed at a board retreat on Jan. 20 as a response to a decrease in available funds. The officials also presented a plan to reorganize the district’s magnet-school system, according to an article in the “Houston Chronicle.”

The primary culprits: Texas’ school-funding system and Hurricane Harvey, a KPRC-TV (Channel 2) Q&A stated. Displacement from the hurricane resulted in lower enrollment and property-tax revenue for the district. The state’s “recapture” policy, which mandates districts with higher property values give back state funding to help poorer districts, will take millions of dollars from the HISD’s coffers.

We’re broke,” Superintendent Richard Carranza told KTRK-TV (Channel 13) about his $2.1 billion district.

Among the effects of the budget cuts could be increased class sizes, different school-bus routes and reduced extracurricular activities, all of which will require adaptation to the district’s education administration software. The exact nature of the cuts are still being considered and must be passed by the school board after public hearings.

District officials said they would try to minimize the effects on the individual campuses by potentially earmarking 56% of the cuts from central administration, maintenance and operations, according to the “Chronicle” article. That would leave 44%, -- or $88 million – to come from the schools. Among the administrative measures could be centralizing certain district departments – such as athletics and special education -- and allocating staff to campuses based on the number of students. Staffing standardization could mean that large schools would see the largest staffing cuts.

How this would affect the 10 chronically underperforming campuses is unknown. The state could, conceivably, take over operations, or they could be repurposed toward the new magnet/charter system HISD officials are proposing.

That new system would include unique magnet schools with students from all over the district, and quadrant-based magnet feeder systems in which students in a magnet’s purview would flow through elementary, middle and high schools as they would in neighborhood-based non-magnet schools. For example there could be four sets of performing arts schools, one in each quadrant. Some magnets might be closed, with a reduction from 115 such schools to 85 possibly in the wings.

Some 15 schools could be turned into charters in an effort to improve their performance, which has some commenters on an HISD Reddit board complaining that it simply shuffles problem students to other campuses. Others, though, support the solution. Superintendent Carranza told Houston Public Media that other possible solutions include partnering with colleges, non-profit or community organizations.

While other school districts have trimmed their budgets significantly – with Texas’ recapture system hurting programs at wealthy school districts – the almost 10% cut sought in Houston is among the most brutal. But as district officials said, it’s something that can’t be helped given the circumstances.




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