HISD Takes Another Run at Standardizing School-Day Start and End Times

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Superintendent Terry Grier is making another run at cutting Houston ISD expenses by standardizing school schedules throughout the district, after last year's narrow rejection of the measure by board trustees.

His administration says that by standardizing the school-bell system (right now there are about 20 different start and end times), the district can not only increase class time by 19 minutes a day, but save itself $1.2 million "that would allow each bus driver to drive more routes than is currently possible."

A multitude of public hearings are being scheduled over the next few weeks (several critics of last year's proposal said the public hadn't known anything about it before it came up for a vote) and, of course, there's going to be some screaming.

The proposal likely to get on the most nerves is the one calling for all high schools to run on an 8:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. schedule -- which runs right into afternoon time usually set aside for extracurriculars, athletics and jobs. That proposal is in direct opposition to last year's, which would have moved the high school start time to 7:45 a.m. with an accompanying earlier end to the school day.

"It's a double-edged sword," HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said following the meeting. He said the district got push-back from parents last year who complained -- with the support of several studies -- that the teenage brain does not function well in the morning.

Spencer said the discussion then becomes: Do we want students who are better prepared mentally for academics or the athletic option? "What we are about is academics," Spencer said. "I feel we can make a better case for a later start for high school."

Under the proposal, about half of the elementary schools would run from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the others from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Middle schools would run from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

HISD Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett once again brought up the possibility of a tax raise, which probably won't be a hit with voters or trustees seeking re-election.

HISD has bragging rights for having the lowest tax rate of any school district in Harris County, but that doesn't mean spit if you can't pay your bills or you're not doing the job you should be doing for the kids. The district has already made enormous cuts in programs and other expenses and is facing a school year with a projected $34 million deficit.

According to HISD's calculations, raising HISD's tax rate by 1.5 cents per $100 of taxable value would mean about $15 million in additional local tax revenue, which would result in the state (yes, we have a wacky -- not funny wacky but wacky wacky -- way of funding schools in this state) coughing up another $5 million.

"The 1.5 cent tax rate increase would cost the owner of the average HISD home valued at $197,408 about $21.44 per year," an HISD press release said.

That seems like a more than reasonable sacrifice to make to help out all these kids that we keep talking about as our future.

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