Instead, they will dip into their reserves to balance their $1.5 billion budget for this year.
The amount is about the same as last year, when the district reduced spending by approximately 5 percent to offset unprecedented state cuts.
Instead of seeking a tax increase – which the school board has been reluctant to embrace – [Superintendent Terry] Grier has recommended spending $9 million, or 3.5 percent, from savings next year.
“I would hate to arbitrarily raise taxes at this point when we don’t know what’s going to happen down the road,” said Mike Lunceford, president of the Houston Independent School District board.
HISD is one of about 600 districts suing the state, claiming funding is inadequate. Lunceford said he is hopeful that lawmakers will revise the school finance system next session.
[HISD Chief Financial Officer Melinda] Garrett said the district cannot continue to spend its fund balance. The account contains $257 million, about two months’ worth of operating expenses. HISD also plans to use $18 million from one-time federal jobs funding to close the budget shortfall.
“The district and the board will have to address how to balance this budget next year,” Garrett said.
The budget was adopted Thursday night. I’m sure the improved real estate market, which has led to higher property tax revenues and thus greatly eased the budget situation for entities like the city of Houston, enabled HISD to get close enough to balance to take this approach. A lot of the cost cutting they did last year – i.e., staff reductions – carry over as well. Still, as Garrett says, they can only go to their reserves for so much. Especially with a big bond package on the table for this year, they will need a healthy amount of reserves to ensure good bond ratings.
That bond package was unveiled Thursday as well, and unlike this year’s budget it will mean higher taxes down the line. Most of the focus will be on the high schools. You can see the details in School Zone and Hair Balls. The Board has not yet voted on Grier’s bond proposal, but there is some early opposition.
Trustee Juliet Stipeche criticized the plan for not including a new High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, her alma mater. Grier acknowledged the facility is lacking but said he wants to sell the valuable property on Dickson and find a new site.
Stipeche said she opposed changing the location, which is convenient to internships at downtown law firms and to students who transfer in from across the city.
State Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, made a special appearance at the board meeting Thursday night to tell trustees he did not support the bond proposal as is, particularly the slight to Law Enforcement.
You can’t have everything. I don’t think that’s sufficient reason to oppose the entire package, but by all means until such time as the board has voted on it anyone who is unhappy with some part of Grier’s proposal go ahead and fight to make it better as they see fit.