HISD approves $1.8B budget; cuts to special ed, jobs expected

Thursday, June 16, 2016
Houston Independent School District.

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Houston Independent School District trustees approved a $1.8 billion budget Thursday morning, with trustees and administrators hammering out a plan to send millions of dollars to Austin because the legislature considers the district "property rich."

In a first for HISD, leaders in Austin consider the district so wealthy -- a so-called 'Robin Hood' district -- that it owes money to the state. This means, essentially, sending $161.8 million to Austin, or carving out property to be assigned to a poorer school district.

The district is required under state rules to hold an election to send the money back to the state. If voters say 'no,' then the Texas education commissioner is charged with detaching pricey commercial properties from HISD and assigning them to poorer school districts to be taxed at their rates.

"Because the vast majority of HISD's budget is spent directly on schools, there was no way to implement the state-mandated cuts without impacting classrooms. The 2016-2017 budget includes a $179-per-student funding cut for schools. HISD is a decentralized district, meaning principals, working in collaboration with their campus communities, have broad discretion to determine how to reduce their own budgets," according to the school district.

Trustees expressed their frustration at the state's 'Robin Hood' rules.

"This is a wacky world," Trustee Jolanda Jones said. "This is a bizarre to me."

Jones wondered if state leaders were "on drugs."

"Their brains don't work," she said.

Trustee Greg Meyers agreed.

"This is directly impacting kids and that is a crime," he said.

Planned cuts to cover the millions being sent to Austin include slashing the budgets for gasoline for buses, lowering the light bill and axing some administrative staff, according to the proposed budget.

The most controversial cut may be the proposed dismantling of the district's "Apollo" reform program, which provides $20 million to the HISD's lowest-performing schools. This money is spent on tutors and for additional teaching time.