HISD board approves $40M in budget cuts
HOUSTON The school board met Thursday morning and went back over the proposed cuts in the budget before voting, then passed unanimously the more than $40 million in cuts. Nearly 10 percent of HISD's central office staff, or 227 positions, will be eliminated. The district says that reduction will save about $18 million. HISD calls it streamlining the central office, but some of those cuts will be felt at Love Elementary School and other schools throughout the district. Today's cuts combined with cuts made last month means the district and parents expect to see changes in the classroom, such as more students per class and fewer teachers. "It's going to be tough and we're all going to have to work a little bit harder. But if it's done the right way, the kids aren't neccessarily going to feel the hardship," said parent Bronwyn Lauder. For Lauder, the answer is to be more involved in her kids' school. The board also approved more than $22 million worth of district-wide program budget reductions, including eliminating or reducing district-wide staff stipends, reducing money used to provide schools with assistance in the cost for national travel for academic and other non-UIL invitations, reducing funds spent on disciplinary alternative education programs, and cutting the maintenance of effort for special education. "The fear would be that some of our schools would no longer have access or would no longer take their students," Sam Sarabia, HISD Chief School Officer, said about reducing money for student travel. HISD says the district has now shaved more than $100 million from its 2011-2012 budget after combining cuts made last month. HISD's chief financial officer emphasized to the board that although the cuts were difficult, they had to be done now. "We want to go ahead and get that done, so we can start doing planning for next year. To wait until the legislature is finished, which could be July or August, and then go into this, it doesn't set us up to be able to plan for next year," said Melinda Garrett, HISD's CFO. However, the board says they are not finished. They still need to cut about $65 million more based on the district's projection of a $160 million annual cut in state funding and $11 million worth of projected cost increases. HISD says some cost-cutting options being considered include the possible closure and consolidation of several small elementary schools, a property tax rate increase, and a five percent reduction of the district's optional homestead exemption. Tonight, HISD will hold a community meeting to discuss the possible closure of Love Elementary. Love is one of four low-enrollment schools that could be closed to help save money. That meeting is from 5:30pm to 7pm tonight at the campus on West 13th Street. Grimes, Rhoads, Love and McDade elementaries are considered to have too few students. Pending board approval, they will be shut down at the end of the school year to make ends meet. We'll have more details on Eyewitness News tonight.