Optimism 2011: HISD May Lose Less Than Expected in State Funds

Either still in the hole or way ahead
Either still in the hole or way ahead

Could the Houston ISD have cut too much? According to Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett today, the latest news from the state Legislature is that if the so-called Eissler (Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands) amendment is adopted, the district may have actually cut $16.4 million too much from its upcoming budget.

If instead, Senate Bill B22 is adopted, the district may still face a shortfall of between $9 million and $24.8 million after the cuts it has already made, Garrett said.

Still, this is far less than the $59 million HISD thought it still had to go. Trustees immediately began talking about the possibility of restoring some of their cuts -- particularly in the area of per pupil allocation money if it turns out they'll have more money than they thought they'd have.

"If we don't do anything else, we should reiterate ... if there's any overcoming the shortfall, that's the frst place we would review," Larry Marshall said.

"I think we said that when we voted on it," Board President Paula Harris said, adding somewhat ruefully: "We're optimistic Mr. Marshall, but we're still optimistic about a $91 million cut to the budget. We never thought we'd be glad to see that."

Of course, as Garrett pointed out, everything is far from settled with the Legislature, or even whether it will finally settle this or have to call a special session. At present, the district is not thinking of changing its tax rate of 1.1567 per $100 in house valuation.

In further review of upcoming budget expenditures for the next school year, there was some bittersweet news in the health insurance fund. Because of the number of teachers who've been fired in a cost savings measure, projections show a decrease in expenditures from $139.7 million to $123.2 million, Garrett reported.

"By reducing the number of employees, you're reducing claims," Garrett said.

In a completely unrelated discussion about crossing guards and safety, trustees Marshall and Carol Mims Galloway called for the installation of red light traffic cameras in school zones -- a program recently reversed in Houston proper because a lot of people really didn't like it.

Both urged immediate implementation of their proposal which, they said, would improve the safety of school children and help pay for the underfunded crossing guards program with fines.

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