HISD still has shortfall after slashing jobs
HOUSTON We first told you about that school board meeting on Thursday. One by one, HISD employees, some fighting back tears, asked the school board to make cuts elsewhere. We've been taking a closer look at the money problems and what options will be available to those teachers who are losing their jobs. Whenever you're talking about people's livelihoods and making them either reapply for those jobs or just eliminating the positions altogether, it's an emotional issue. And that has not changed the day after. Friday was a regular school day across the Houston Independent School District. Teachers teaching. Students learning. The proverbial calm after the storm. "It was big. It was noisy at times. There was a lot of passion there obviously," said HISD Spokesperson Norm Uhl. "We will treat people with dignity. We will treat people with respect," said HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier. "They just refer to you as the employer from hell. Thank you," said Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon. A school board meeting in which the district voted to cut 170 jobs, and 99 of them were teachers. "This is a reorganization," said Dr. Grier. "They have positions for these people. They currently have positions for these people," said Fallon. "It's not a matter of getting rid of the teachers. We're talking about eliminating positions that will no longer exist, so their jobs will no longer exist, which means they go into a pool of applicants for jobs that are open within the district," said Uhl. The district is $7 million in the hole even after cutting those jobs, and despite the rancor on Thursday night, it is not backing down. The district maintains that the teachers can reapply for any of the 1,200 positions that open up every summer. "They have the opportunity, actually the first opportunity, to apply for open positions before we hire from outside," said Uhl. The teachers' union, however, is asking all of the fired teachers to file grievances saying they have a case regardless of how the district tries to spin the cuts. "All of the rhetoric that we're hearing from the administration is not what we're hearing as the reality from the teachers," said Fallon. "We're gonna treat our people fairly. And anyone that tries to tell this community or tries to tell you otherwise is being disingenuous," said Dr. Grier. At the beginning of this year, the district had a $28 million shortfall. By a variety of changes and restructuring, that number has been trimmed to $7 million. But they still have to figure out a way to bridge the gap. Cuts for HISD athletics? Despite that financial pinch, there are no planned cuts for high school athletics. Not football and not basketball. "Schools decide what sports they want and then they buy an athletic package from the district," said Uhl. What that means is that the district does not control sports spending, rather it's done at the school level and in the cases of sports where tickets are sold, keeping the sports in tough times is a no brainer. "It produces revenue. And their budget is based on revenue," Uhl said. Also, football and basketball make enough money in some cases that they fund other athletic programs. If a school ever decides a sport is too costly, the district says the decision is never a hasty one. "Usually it is a joint decision made in the community. What sports are we going to offer? And if they decide they're going to get rid of one sport or pick up another sport, that's a decision that's made at the school level," said Uhl.