By Charlotte Aguilar
With time running out on failing schools, a looming budget deficit, and a chronically dysfunctional school board, Austin will be deciding the fate of the Houston ISD this year.
Trustees closed the door in December on allowing outside groups — including a private-public partnership modeled after a successful effort in Los Angeles and coordinated by the Houston mayor’s office — to take over four historically failing campuses. If those schools don’t meet standards this year, the Texas Education Agency has the option to replace the HISD school board or close the schools.
The vote to reject outside help was 5-4, with West U-Bellaire trustee Sue Deigaard favoring the assistance.
There’s a preliminary budget on the board table from Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan that projects a $76 million deficit due to an estimated recapture payment to the state of $312.5 million, an increase of about $40 million from last year’s payment. Administrators say a combination of declining enrollment — expected to be down about 1,500 students — and an estimated 2 percent increase in property tax revenue could trigger the higher bill.
With the state legislature in session in 2019, though, HISD has adopted a legislative agenda calling for school finance reform.
HISD will lobby for adjustments to the 35-year-old “Robin Hood” system using a formula that funnels money through the state from property-rich districts such as Houston’s to poorer school systems. HISD’s agenda calls for legislators to reduce local property taxpayers’ contribution to schools to no more than 50 percent by increasing the state’s contribution through General Revenue, and identifying new state revenue resources for local districts.
“We are going to have be creative as we go through, really, the next 10 years, unless we get some relief from Austin,” Lathan told the board.
The remainder of HISD’s lengthy priorities in Austin run the gamut from increasing funding for school safety, including enough money to place a police officer at every HISD campus, to reducing the weight of STAAR tests on accountability, to preserving the cosmetology courses offered as career training at some high schools.
Featured in Essentials Magazine/Schools, January 2019