HISD considers drastic measures to deal with cuts

May 30, 2011 4:50:59 PM PDT
In Austin, the Texas Legislature will go into a special session starting Tuesday to vote on a school finance bill, and local school districts will have to wait longer to learn how big their budget gaps will be. The Houston Independent School District is already considering drastic measures to deal with state cuts. The district currently has one of the lowest tax rates in the area and is now considering a possible tax increase.

We found parents who say, even on a holiday, it's a nagging issue.

"Being a teacher, I need to know what's coming up. We need to prepare just like anybody else," said teacher Blanca Flores Lopez.

"I just want my kids to have a classroom with fewer students, but with the teachers being cut from some of the districts I know there's going to be an increase in class size and I'm concerned about that," said parent Katrina Johnson.

Not knowing how the state will fund schools means HISD is back to square one, trying to balance their budget. The board of trustees doesn't know if state lawmakers will cut more or less from the already estimated state reduction in funding of $160 million.

When the board met last Thursday, they were hopeful legislators would decide school funding. The estimated $4 billion in cuts statewide means all school districts face substantial cuts, but it is HISD, the state's largest school district, that faces losing the most.

A check of several local school districts shows the pain -- Katy ISD is predicting a $50 million loss in state funding; Cy-Fair ISD anywhere from $65 to $116 million; Spring Branch ISD is expected to lose about $17.5 million; Fort Bend an estimated $74 million; and HISD has projected a $160 million loss in state funding.

HISD Board President Paula Harris is pushing for one option.

"Really encouraging the Governor the Lt. Governor and our Senators to push for the Rainy Day Fund," said Harris. "We'll probably adopt the budget with deficits, then after special session we'll have to go in and amend our budget."

She says deeper cuts in state funding could push a vote by the board to raise taxes.

HISD has the lowest tax rate among local school districts at $1.15 per $100 valuation. Katy ISD has the highest at $1.52.

"We're quite obviously being penalized for our low tax rate from the state legislature. They are trying to tie our hands and we are trying to make the best for our citizens. We want to try and make the cuts fair," said Harris.

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