Public Hearings on HISD Budget Situation and Bell Schedule Proposal Begin Tonight

The first of 11 public meetings to gather input on a plan to add 19 minutes to the average school day with a uniform bell schedule for all Houston Independent School District campuses will be held tonight at three high schools.

  • Tuesday, April 3 – 6-7 p.m.
     Austin HS (1700 Dumble)
     Bellaire HS (5100 Maple Street)
     Chavez HS (8501 Howard)

Upcoming meetings:

  • April 4 (Wednesday) – 6-7 p.m.
    Lamar HS (3325 Westheimer) 
    Sharpstown HS (7504 Bissonnet)
    Waltrip HS – (1900 West 34th )
  • April 9 (Monday) – Noon-1 p.m. at the Hattie Mae Educational Support Center (4400 W. 18th Street)
  • April 9 (Monday) – 6-7 p.m.
    Westside High School (14201 Briar Forest)
  • April 10 (Tuesday) – 6-7 p.m.
    Wheatley HS (4801 Providence)
    Worthing HS (9215 Scott)
    Yates HS (3703 Sampson)

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

Under the uniform bell schedule 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. 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. The new schedule would save a projected $1.2 million.

Currently, HISD’s 279 schools have about 20 different start and end times. Under the proposal, 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.

Click here to see proposed bell schedules for all HISD elementary schools.

The cost savings in this plan would come from a much more efficient school bus operation that would allow each bus to serve more routes than is currently possible.
Starting high school classes later in the day is supported by scientific studies that show teens learn better when they’re able to sleep later in the morning.

A series of community meetings are scheduled in locations throughout the district, and principals are being asked to meet with their communities to gather even more input. Parents and community members may also offer their opinions by taking a survey (click here). HISD administrators plan to analyze all of this feedback before making a formal proposal for the Board of Education’s consideration by May 17.

More state and federal funding cuts on the horizon

HISD’s current budget of $1.58 billion is about $120 million less than the 2003 budget, when adjusted for inflation. Over the years, HISD has worked to tighten the budget mostly by cutting school services that are not directly related to classroom instruction. Since 2000, HISD has reduced Central Office school support staffing by 24 percent and school staff by 13.8 percent.

A year ago, HISD was forced to address a $78 million cut in state funding and $28 million in increased fixed costs for items such as fuel, employee benefits, and utilities. This resulted in a total $106 million shortfall.

For 2012-2013, HISD is losing an additional $44 million in state funding and the district anticipates a $9 million increase in fixed costs. On top of that, HISD schools stand to lose $5.6 million in federal funds to serve students from low-income families. The Board of Education has agreed to offset $18.5 million of this shortfall by dipping into the district’s emergency savings.

HISD currently offers the lowest property tax rate of any school district in Harris County, plus an additional 20 percent homestead exemption that is rare among Texas school districts.

Other options for addressing $34 million shortfall

The uniform bell schedule is just one of many ideas under consideration as HISD seeks to address the projected shortfall while having the least impact on schools. HISD Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett so far has identified about $16 million in possible budget cuts. 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