Uniform bell schedule for schools would save HISD $1.2 million, board is told

Implementing uniform schedules across the Houston Independent School District’s 279 campuses would free up $1.2 million while giving the average student an extra 19 minutes in the classroom, according to a budget-cutting option presented to the HISD Board of Education today.

HISD is looking for more ways to reduce spending as the district seeks to address a projected $34 million deficit for the 2012-2013 school year. The loss in revenue is a result of last year’s decision by the Texas Legislature to reduce public education funding by $5.3 billion.

Streamlining HISD’s bell schedule was among many potential spending reduction options discussed during Thursday’s Board of Education meeting. Under this plan, every HISD school would have an instructional day that is 7 ½ hours long. This represents a 19-minute increase for the average HISD school, or a total of seven full days of extra instruction time over the course of the year.

Currently, HISD schools have about 20 different start and end times. Under the option presented today, schools would operate on the following bell schedule:

  • Approximately half of all elementary schools would operate from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Approximately half of all elementary schools would operate from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • All middle schools would operate from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
  • All high schools would operate from 8:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

The cost savings in this plan would come from a much more efficient school bus operation that would allow each bus to drive more routes than is currently possible.

Starting high school classes later in the day is supported by scientific research that shows teens learn better when they’re able to sleep later in the morning. The 19 HISD schools that currently operate for more than 7 ½ hours per day would be allowed to continue offering the same amount of instructional time, said Chief Operating Officer Leo Bobadilla.

In the coming weeks, HISD will be gathering community input on the streamlined bell schedule option. A detailed description of the plan and a survey will be posted to the district’s website, www.houstonisd.org. A series of community meetings will be held in locations throughout the district, and principals will be asked to meet with their communities to gather even more input. HISD administration plans to analyze all of this feedback before making a formal proposal for the Board of Education’s consideration by May 17.

Other options considered for addressing $34 million deficit

HISD Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett so far has identified about $12 million in possible budget cuts for addressing the anticipated $34 million deficit. Those options include:

  • A $5 million reduction in the amount of ASPIRE Awards paid to teachers and other campus employees for raising student achievement
  • A $1.5 million cut in general departmental spending
  • A $1.3 million reduction in special education spending that corresponds with a decline in the number of special education students in HISD
  • A $615,000 savings by closing these three HISD administrative offices currently housed in old school buildings and relocating staff elsewhere:
    • The Langston facility
    • The Chatham facility
    • The Holden facility
  • A $600,000 savings from the removal of 153 under-utilized temporary buildings located at schools through HISD

Garrett said her staff will continue searching for potential budget cuts. She also briefed the Board of Education on the possibility of addressing some of the funding shortfall with a property tax rate increase. HISD currently offers the lowest tax rate of any school district in Harris County, plus an additional 20 percent homestead exemption that is rare among Texas school districts.

Texas’ current school finance formula penalizes school districts such as HISD with low tax rates. That penalty currently costs HISD schools about $5 million per year. Raising HISD’s tax rate by 1.5 cents per $100 of a property’s taxable value would restore that $5 million in state funding and generate a approximately $15 million in local tax revenue, Garrett said. A 1.5-cent tax rate increase would cost the owner of the average HISD home valued at $197,408 about $21.44 per year.