HISD Decides To Dial Back on Significant Change to its Funding System

Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan
Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan Screen capture from HISD TV
It's like watching your favorite TV show and all of a sudden an entire plot line that you've been following for weeks just disappears and the characters are acting like it never happened.  Did you miss an episode?  Run to the bathroom at the wrong time? Just not understand the clues?

Well that was the Houston ISD trustees Monday when all this talk of making a significant change in how they allocate funds to the schools from PUA (Per Unit Allocation — those "units" being the students ) to FTE ( Full-Time Equivalent system in which schools are assigned staffing positions based on how many students they have)  that Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones had carried so much water on, evaporated.

Moving to FTE — used by all other school districts in Texas  — would have reinvigorated the district's attempt to provide equity to all its students, Skillern-Jones had said. Clearly not all the board members agreed and there was concern in the community that this could seriously damage some of the district's more successful schools.

So instead, the school board and administration are now proposing to tweak the PUA system, decreasing student allotments throughout the district while increasing the small school subsidy from $7.5 million to $18.7 million to counter some of these cuts. Not all the board members seemed clued in to the details of the sudden left turn, the same question — "How many small schools is this? (83) — was asked over and over again.

The first sign that new Interim Superintendent Granita Lathan and troops had decided to step away from the funding plan devised while Richard Carranza (featured in The New York Times Monday) was in charge, was a press release sent out to the media one hour before a 2 p.m. special meeting in which it was clear the discussions were going to be of much more significance that the original meeting notice had indicated.

Despite the add-ons for small schools — which even Budget Manager Glenn Reed said was "a band-aid" which does not fix historic funding inequities — there still will be massive cuts in other areas, namely $70 million from the central office departments and $45 million from the district's campuses. to cover a $115 million deficit  thanks to having to pay recapture funds back to the state. The PUA allocation for each student will drop from  $3,522 to $3,432 for high school and elementary school and from $3,558 to $3,468 for middle school.

Trustees will still have to approve all this when they vote on the final 2018-19 budget.

As if the district didn't have enough financial challenges, trustees learned that just last week, the struggling charter school Victory Preparatory Academy South had thrown in the towel, saying it didn't have enough money to pay its teachers. Its sister school, Vitctory Prep North had closed earlier for the same run-out-of-money reasons but the South school was supposed to be able to make a go of it.

After some discussion, seven trustees voted in favor of providing funds to pay the teachers through the remainder of the year — up to $300,000 — while the school's manager, Management Accountability Corporation, takes care of the rent and other bills.

Despite some outrage on the part of trustee Jolanda Jones who asked for a review of which administrator had said Victory Prep South would be solvent, school board members agreed it would be best to let these students, especially the seniors, finish out the year in this school and then shut things down completely.

Jones wanted to know why there hadn't been more financial oversight of the charter by HISD, although that brings up the question of whether it is the local district or the Texas Education Agency that is tasked with oversight of the daily operations of any charter in the state.

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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.
Contact: Margaret Downing