For the first time since World War II - the big one - the state of Texas is looking at actual reductions in public education funding, Houston ISD board attorney David Thompson told trustees today.
"Uncharted ground" is how Thompson termed what HISD and other districts are about to step out onto as state legislators prepare to negotiate the state's severe budget shortfall. Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett says "talk is still in the $20-25 billion range" for the overall state budget shortfall but everyone is waiting for the state comptroller's estimate to make sure.
And she says, depending on what formula is devised to distribute the (lessened) wealth, "We are potentially going to take huge losses." Thompson repeated earlier assessments that the cutback in state education funds could total $3-5 billion.
HISD budget personnel have already been discussing ways to cope with reduced circumstances and have instituted a zero-based budgeting approach for all departments. The internal meetings begin today. Some gains can be made simply by postponing the payment of bills into the next fiscal year, Thompson said.
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Thompson said he believes most of the severe cuts would come in the second year of the biennium, not the first, since so many programs are already locked into place.
For 2010-11 the total HISD total budget is almost $1.7 billion. In response to a question from trustee Carol Mims Galloway, Garrett said it does not include possible increases such as the new drainage fee that may be imposed by the city of Houston or any increased health insurance medical costs.
Superintendent Terry Grier warned that it will probably be impossible when making reductions not to affect the amount of money sent to district schools. "We have a rightsizing conversation coming up here soon."
On the good-news front, HISD reported it received a $1.5 million grant over three years from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help it put "an effective teacher in every classroom."