Budget woes may mean shakeup at HISD schools

December 14, 2010 3:45:33 PM PST
Hard times are ahead for the state's largest school district, and several schools across Houston ISD could soon feel the effects. The man in charge of HISD says the district is considering "rightsizing" dozens of schools, and that means anything from closures to cutting services or programs.

The superintendent says they're difficult options to discuss and the option to close some schools is just that -- options.

The future of dozens of HISD schools is in question.

"No one is running around behaving like Chicken Little and claiming that the sky is falling," HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said.

However, HISD is bracing for an estimated budget shortfall from the state of up to $25 million, maybe more. That means administrators are already planning budgets without spending increases and may also mean the closing of some HISD schools.

One possibility looked at is called "rightsizing," which means action ranging from restructuring campuses to closing them. Sixty-six schools have been identified by HISD as under populated and at risk for closure. HISD won't yet identify those schools.

Another option includes restructuring campuses. An example is EO Smith, which was restructured last week as an all-boy campus.

"That's an example of rather than closing a school, coming up with a concept that we believe will repopulate that school," Grier said.

But the rightsizing option is not option for Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon.

"Rightsizing equals layoffs, and before you lay someone off, you ought to see what your natural vacancies are," Fallon said.

Several board members said the time is now to consider budget cuts in what is characterized as a lean budget year, and all options are being considered.

"No one has said anything about closing any schools as of yet. But it is a conversation that is long overdue," HISD Trustee Manny Rodriguez said.

The rightsizing option is scheduled to be discussed Thursday at one of their meetings.

The district has other options, including issuing furloughs, but Wertha Thomas, the president of the Houston Education Support Personnel Union, says that won't happen without a fight. She says the union, which represents non-teaching employees such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, will protest the furloughs regardless of whether they're mandatory or voluntary.

Thomas says the possibility of furloughs have already been informally discussed, but recent HISD cutbacks in non-teaching positions means there's little else to cut.


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