HISD holds first of several public budget meetings

January 18, 2011 8:30:34 PM PST
HISD is holding a series of budget meetings with the public over the next couple weeks called Community Conversations. The idea is to get parents and students ready for millions of dollars in cuts so they're not blind-sided when they actually happen.

The district is under pressure to cut its $1.6 billion budget amid a projected shortfall in state funding. The state budget shortfall is between $15 and $27 billion.

About three-dozen people gathered at the Chavez High School auditorium to hear a presentation and then ask questions. Most were very specific to their student's school or needs.

The problem is the district doesn't yet know how much its funding will be reduced as a result of the state's budget shortfall so there were very general answers and not everyone was comforted by them.

"Start from the top; don't take it from our children that are trying to make good grades and trying to make something of their lives," mother Frances Rincon said.

"We're going through department by department to try and make the reductions that we have to make so that we don't affect the class," HISD School Board Member Manuel Rodriguez said. "We don't want to touch teachers; we don't want to touch supplies; we don't want to increase the student ratio between students and teachers, but until we know how much the exact shortfall is going to be then we can't react on how much we have to cut."

Rodriguez says HISD doesn't want to touch class sizes, teachers, pre-K programs or magnet schools, but in an interview earlier this month, HISD Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett told us the amount of cuts, which no one has an exact figure, will be big and cannot be absorbed solely at the administrative level.

The district spends about $16 million a year on its 113 magnet programs, excluding transportation.

A recent report, commissioned by HISD Superintendent Terry Grier and the school board, recommended eliminating funding for 55 magnet programs and ending free busing for many students who transfer to the campuses.

Another option is something called right-sizing, which could close under-populated schools and move students around, which some worry will throw off the student-to-teacher ratio and affect learning.

HISD must adopt a budget by June 30.

Here is a list of all the locations and dates where the hearings will be held:

  • Jan. 19, Reagan High School, 413 east 13th Street in the Heights and Revere Middle School, 10502 Briar Forest at 6pm
  • Jan. 22, HISD Headquarters, Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center 4400 W. 18th St. at 9:30 a.m.
  • Jan. 24, Bellaire High School, 5100 Maple, Kashmere High School, 6900 Wileyvale at 6pm

    Visit Houstonisd.org to learn more.