HISD Trustees Reject "Frankenbudget" But Clear the Hurdles for Cesar Chavez Day

Trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca got her bid for a Cesar Chavez Day approved at least.
Trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca got her bid for a Cesar Chavez Day approved at least. HISD-TV screen grab
By a 5-4 vote, Houston ISD trustees rejected what board member Sue Deigaard called a pieced-together "Frankenbudget," concerned that they would be delving too deeply into their rainy day fund even with all the cuts they've already made in their 2018-19 budget.

Voting to send the budget planning back to the drawing board and interim Superintendent Granita Lathan's administration were trustees Deigaard, Diana Davila, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca,, Anne Sung and Elizabeth Santos. Those in favor of Lathan's budget included Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Wanda Adams (checking in by Skype) Sergio Lira and Jolanda Jones.

Jones took issue with the concern about a deficit budget, saying that trustees could just expect that's how the district will have to operate for the next few years because of the recapture money the state has taken from HISD, judging it a property rich district.

But others said they had been rushed in this year's budgeting process and didn't want to take an additional $19 million from the district's reserve fund. 

"We need to return to balanced budgets," Sung said. Trustee Santos said "Until we can start building on a balanced budget and stop rushing we're not going to get things done.  We have to do better. I believe we can do better as a board." 

The anticipated vote on whether to make Lathan the permanent superintendent did not happen. This was a late add to the agenda by Skillern-Jones and several trustees (echoing their rushed budget complaints) have said they did not want this process to be speeded up either. It remains to be seen how Lathan's chances might be affected by the rejection of the budget she presented. When Lathan was named as interim, trustee Sung said she would not be in the running for the permanent position, but apparently that has changed, at least in the minds of some of the trustees.

And trustees voted to fire Furr High School Principal Bertie Simmons in a 5-1 vote. Santos was the sole trustee to vote against terminating the famed educator, while Davila, Deigaard and Adams abstained. The district has been investigating what it says was manipulation of grade and attendance records by Furr administrators. Simmons has filed a lawsuit against the district claiming she was discriminated against because of her age and race.

On the moving forward front, the board did vote to have a district-wide holiday every March beginning in 2020 in honor of activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.  Deigaard offered a motion to delay the vote on the issue, arguing that more study needed to be done on what impact this might have on students' education so close to the STAAR tests, but no one else agreed with her.  So that was a win for Vilaseca who had presented the proposal.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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