It doesn't look like there's going to be an increase in taxes after all and Houston ISD just got word that it's been approved for more than $70.6 million in so-called E-Rate Funding, which means a lot of kids who've been going without wi-fi in their schools can jump up and down and click their heels because the power's coming on, baby.
All right, maybe Superintendent Terry Grier didn't make his announcement in quite those terms, but it wasn't that far off either. As we've reported before, the back story from 2007 is a sad and dingy one.
Vendors doing business with the district were handing out goodies and three (now former) HISD employees took them up on their offers of gifts and meals -- which, of course, they are not supposed to do. Then the district got hung up in a disagreement with the Federal Communications Commission over what it had to pay in fines because of the bad behavior.
Grier recommended a settlement, and one $850,000 payment later, HISD was back in business to be eligible for the federal funding for "cabling, routers, switches, wireless points" and more. As of 2010 the money started coming in again.
In other (they think, maybe, fingers crossed) good news, it looks like, if all things stand as they are now (and who can tell with the Texas Legislature), HISD might have overshot what it needs to cut for the next year by $21.9 million. That doesn't mean HISD is getting $21.9 million more from the state -- and remember, HISD has already cut $100 million -- it's just that maybe it didn't have to cut that much and can see about restoring some items (teachers?) before the fall.
The budget that school board trustees will vote on Thursday night represents a drop from this year's almost $1.7 billion budget of $96 million. It is based on the premise that Texas will give HISD $79 million less in state funding for 2011-12.
Projections get significantly worse by 2012-13 when HISD budget analysts say they expect the district to be $40 million short, requiring it to make additional cuts beyond the ones already made.
But to date, the district is advertising this as something that at least for next year won't require a change in the property tax rate and retains the optional 20 percent homestead exemption. That rate will be set in the fall.
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HISD board attorney David Thompson said this session is proof that many legislators stayed steadfast about not dipping into the state's Rainy Day Fund. "There's a strong majority in the House and also in the Senate to not deplete the Rainy Day Fund and to carry some of it over to the next biennium."
"I think that it really demonstrates just how strong the opposition is of some groups in the state to spend any money for any reason or any circumstances from the Rainy Day Fund," Thompson said
Trustee Harvin Moore scoffed at this, saying, "Mr. Thompson, I think you're being a little generous when you say they won't allow any money to be taken out of the Rainy Day Fund for any use for any reason. You don't have to look back any further than the last session to find the same people who were saying that you can't take it out for any reason, wanted to take out for the Texas Emergent Technology Fund ...They all do want to use it. What they won't allow it to be used for under any circumstances is to fund public education. "
"I think that's an accurate description," Thompson agreed.