HISD: Searches For Ways To Stanch Bleeding Budget, Mentions Taxes

This morning, an emergency meeting was called by HISD officials who are growing more desperate as severe budget cuts looms closer. About 10 parents sat in Pin Oak Middle School's cafeteria and listened to board president Paula Harris hint at dire solutions the school board doesn't want to face: including possible changes to property taxes.

Harris lamented the Legislature's budget proposal. Even though the $78 million cut is much less than the January projection of cutting $161 million, the district still isn't able to close the gap. Harris said the state told HISD it should be grateful. "That's like someone punching you in the face twice and saying be glad we didn't punch you three times," she said.

This year, HISD has cut $106 million from its budget, with "heavy, heavy bleeding," Harris said. Teachers, nurses, librarians, technology education, and summer school have all been pummeled by the new budget. In August, each HISD student will have to use $275 less in school resources.

Harris had suggestions for the state: create a sustainable way to fund education or dip into its rainy day fund, for example. Neither seems likely. Though part of the onus of funding education falls on the state, it's HISD that will have to shoulder most of the burden.

As far as further HISD budget cuts are concerned, Harris said that nothing's off the table. (The unspoken inclusion, of course, being a property tax hike or a revocation of the 20 percent homestead exemption.) Harris made a point of repeating that HISD presently has the lowest tax rate of any other school district in Harris County. "The higher our taxes, we get less cuts from the state," she said. "Because our tax rate is so low, our cuts are deeper."

Gayle Fallon, president of Houston Federation of Teachers, added that HISD will likely file a lawsuit against the state, which will be costly. "We are probably going to spend billions on litigation," she said.

Stay tuned as HISD unhappily counts down the days to the finalization of the Legislature's budget on June 23.

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Mandy Oaklander
Contact: Mandy Oaklander