in Houston, Texas
Houston ISD employees offer suggestions on how district can cut budget
Wednesday, Dec 15, 2010, 03:18PM CST
By Lynn Walsh
Light switch

Cut district travel, eliminate breakfast in the classroom, reduce magnet funding and cut lights off at night -- those are just some of the suggestions made by Houston school system employees to cut the budget of the seventh-largest school district in the country.

As the Houston Independent School District braces itself for multi-million dollar cuts from the state, it is asking its employees and the community at large for suggestions on how to reduce cut spending. (To submit a suggestion, send an e-mail to CFOcomments@houstonisd.org.)

There are some thrifty suggestions: require double-sided printing of all documents, combine supply closets, and require the use of printer refill cartridges.

Some human resource suggestions: require all administrators to serve as substitute teachers two days every semester, voluntary pay cuts, a four-day work week and closing down the district during the summer.

Some energy-saving suggestions: turning lights off at night, adjusting thermostats, unplugging equipment when it is not in use and turning off the AC when students are not in school.

(HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said the district is not seeing any problems with lights being left on in schools or air conditioners cooling empty buildings. “Trust me,” he said. “If these were problems, we would know about it. People would be calling us.”)

And some suggestions on what to cut: after-school programs, travel, food at campuses and central administration, breakfast in the classroom, trinket purchasing and overall supplies.

Along with cutting travel, employees recommended requiring people to share rooms when traveling. In an investigation this year, Texas Watchdog found poor planning, a preference for costlier direct flights, and the use of a travel agency that charges $30 for each plane ticket, costing the district thousands of dollars each year.

Pre-K funding and summer school made the list of suggested items not to be cut. You can view all of the suggestions from employees here.

To be clear, these are just suggestions. But they will all will be reviewed and considered by members of the HISD administration and budget committees, according to HISD’s chief financial officer, Melinda Garrett.

One committee, the Superintendent’s Budget Committee, is made up of HISD administrators including Grier’s chief of staff, Michelle Pola, and chief human resources officer, Ann Best. A complete list of people on the committee can be found here.

The other budget committee, the Budget Advisory Committee, is composed of 10 HISD principals and six people who are either HISD parents or members of the community. The committee has met twice this year and will begin meeting twice a month in January. Details on who sits on that committee were not released by HISD.

The cuts from the state, Garrett said, could range from $60 million to $163 million for HISD next year. She said the state is expected to make cuts in textbook funding and reduce the number and amount of state-funded grants it gives out to school districts.

Next year, HISD is also anticipating an additional cost of $3 million-4 million associated with the Renew Houston drainage ordinance.  The district has asked the city to be considered exempt from the fee associated with the ordinance, but has not heard whether that will happen yet, Grier said Tuesday during a conversation with the media.

“We don’t think we’ll get it,” he said. “Unless it comes from the legislature, we don’t think we’ll see it.” The fee was approved by Houston voters in the November election.

On top of that, HISD will no longer be able to depend on stimulus money, which is set to expire at the end of this financial year, and it expects increases in overall health insurance costs, Garrett said.

According to Texas state law, HISD must approve a budget by June 30, 2011. Approving a budget, according to Garrett, usually takes between seven to nine months.

IHISD has planned a series of community meetings in January to discuss how the state budget shortfall will affect the district. The meetings will take place Jan. 18, 19, 22 and 24. More details on the times and where the meetings will be held can be found here.

How do you think HISD could save money? Texas Watchdog wants to hear what you think. Contact Lynn Walsh, Lynn@TexasWatchdog.org, 713-228-2850 or on Twitter, @LWalsh and @TexasWatchdog.

Light switch photo by flickr user TheGiantVermin, used under a Creative Commons license.

Comments
Rorschach
Wednesday, 12/15/2010 - 04:54PM

If HISD is run like most ISD's (and I suspect it is.) then the district could save a HUGE amount of money by decimating the administration staff. the average ISD has an administrator for every teacher on the payroll. This is entirely too much. My daughter's high school (not HISD) has a total of 12 ASSISTANT PRINCIPALS! By way of comparison, the high school I attended had four, one for each grade level. And the school had at least as many kids as hers does. (roughly 4000). Is this level of Admin staffing really justified? And these administrators don't come cheap either, the average administrator, when pension and benefits are factored in, costs well over six figures per year to have on the payroll. this one change would probably completely wipe out the budget shortfall and result in a net surplus.

John Cobarruvias
Monday, 12/27/2010 - 11:04PM

Cut funding for all sports. Football, baseball, softball, everything and all support functions also such as band. If you want to play football, play it after school.

Rhonda
Friday, 02/18/2011 - 10:26PM

Cut Pre-K to a half day.

Stop translating and printing materials in languages other than English.

Get rid of specialists.

Make bilingual education ESL instead so that moer than just Mexican teachers can have a jo.

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