HISD Unveils Budget Proposal to Address $43.6 Million Deficit With No Tax Increase

The HISD Board of Education was presented with a 2012-2013 budget proposal on Thursday that addresses a $43.6 million deficit while maintaining the current property tax rate and per-student funding levels.

Like other school systems across Texas, the Houston Independent School District is grappling with the fallout of the Texas Legislature’s decision to reduce education funding by $5.3 billion over a two-year period. For HISD, the two-year cut totals more than $120 million.

The proposal, which requires school board approval, calls for a $16.5 million employee compensation package that would help HISD keep pace with a growing number of Texas school districts that have already announced plans to approve pay raises. HISD salaries were frozen this school year, and only a portion of teachers received state-mandated pay raises in 2010-2011.

A detailed proposal for distributing the proposed pay raises will be presented to the board in May.

The district’s deficit would be covered in part with a $17 million reduction in the amount of general fund money that is normally transferred to HISD’s debt service fund to help repay loans. This reduction is a one-time option that will not be available in future years. In addition, $8 million would be transferred from the district’s $257 million general fund balance.

HISD finance experts worked with principals and central office administrators to identify several areas of potential savings in 2012-2013. These potential savings include:

• $3.5 million in reduced employee healthcare costs through increased efficiencies that should not impact quality of service.
• $1.7 million less in special funding for six unique schools.
• $1.6 million in non-campus departmental cuts, primarily through eliminating positions and layoffs. Last year, HISD eliminated 221 non-campus positions.

Earlier this year, HISD asked the community for feedback on a plan to implement a uniform bell schedule that would have added 19 minutes to the average school day and save $1.2 million. On Thursday, Chief Operating Officer Leo Bobadilla said the district will not pursue the change after considering feedback from parents and principals. HISD recently conducted a survey and 11 town hall meetings on the topic. The transportation department, which was recently recognized as one of the top school transportation systems in the nation, will continue exploring more ways to increase efficiency.

HISD is also losing $5.7 million in federal Title I funding for programs that benefit low-income students. Because the federal money will no longer cover the cost of programs that allow students to take online courses during non-traditional school hours, the Board of Education previously agreed to use local tax dollars to cover that $3.1 million cost. The board is now being asked to consider whether to continue funding other programs that were formally funded with Title I money.
The Board of Education is set to discuss the proposed budget in several upcoming public meetings before adopting a budget in June.