HISD Budget Passes Unanimously after Drama-Filled Adventure

After playing a game of chicken with the employees and students of Houston Independent School District (HISD), the HISD Board of Trustees unanimously voted to essentially approve the same $2 billion budget proposal for the 2018-2019 school year presented to them by HISD Superintendent Grenita Lathan on June 14.

So what changed between then and now? To be honest, there was practically nothing worth them not voting for it the first time.

The only minor change made to the proposed budget was a request to take money that hadn’t been accessed from the general fund and move it to the rainy day fund. That’s it!

The requested amendment to the proposed budget was an extremely minor, yet urgent attempt, for the five board members (Anne Sung, Holly Vilaseca, Diana Davila, Elizabeth Santos and Sue Deigaard) who voted against the budget back on June 14, to clean up the colossal mess they created and angst they caused many individuals that are a part of the HISD community, especially the employees.

To better explain things about the approved budget, just know that it includes a performance review by the Texas Legislative Budget Board (LBB). The amendment offered up by one of the dissenting board members reduced the proposed performance review allotment from $2.5 million to $1 million, with the difference of $1.5 million being transferred immediately to the general fund reserve for operations. Keep in mind that the total cost of the performance review to be conducted by the LBB has not yet been determined, but the LBB is expected to begin working on the performance review in fall 2018 with the hopes that the findings may be used by the board in the decision-making process during the next budget cycle. This same amendment could have been offered up on June 14, but wasn’t even brought up by any of the dissenting trustees.

The approved budget still includes $17 million in increases for special education, dyslexia programs, and Achieve 180, the research-based program that will continue next school year to support underserved and underperforming schools.

HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones praised the decision by her colleagues to pass the budget, but explained that there are still other major issues that HISD must tackle.

“I am pleased that the Board was able to pass a budget, because our employees and students needed to feel secure,” said Skillern-Jones. “This isn’t the end though. We are going to start early next semester. Our recapture payment is increasing and there is little left to cut. We have to prepare for that.”

As other large school districts in Texas, HISD continues to face looming budget shortfalls in the coming years due to inadequate state funding and increasing recapture payments. HISD has been designated by the state as a property-wealthy school district under the state’s school finance system, despite the fact that almost 80 percent of students are considered low-income.

Recapture requires districts that exceed a certain per-student property wealth level to send local tax dollars to the state. The 2018-19 budget has a $272.5 million recapture payment budgeted.

The need to have this budget approved before the June 30 deadline was critical.

As you may recall in our recent Forward Times article entitled, Shutdown At HISD: Over 28,000 Employees At Risk, it was mentioned that any 3 members of the Board of Trustees could request a meeting to place the budget back on the agenda at any time before the deadline through the Board President. Trustee Jolanda Jones, who has been very vocal on this issue decided to reach out to several of her colleagues in order to strongly encourage them to request a special emergency meeting to work towards getting the budget passed. She was successful in her efforts, in that Trustees Sergio Lira, Wanda Adams and Sue Diegaard – who was one of the five trustees who voted against the original budget – agreed to sign off on a request to Board President Skillern-Jones to have the special emergency meeting that took place this past Monday.

Jones believes things should never have gotten to this point and feels she pushed the envelope to help deal with this issue and move things forward.

“Prior to me stepping up to request this emergency meeting none of the five trustees who voted against the bill the first time, were unwilling to request the meeting,” said Jones. “While I’m thankful my colleagues decided to finally do the right thing and pass the budget, I’m still disappointed they decided to create this unnecessary drama and concern amongst our employees and the HISD community. There is so much more to this issue that needs to be unpacked and I plan to stay involved to ensure HISD students and employees are not negatively impacted in the near future.”