HISD Trustees Say Power to the Principals

In a 5-3 vote, Houston ISD trustees passed an amended motion Thursday night to return $18.5 million to principals for the 2011-12 school year with no strings attached -- but with an extra designation that the return of the money would be "permanent."

Trustee Anna Eastman's amendment -- more symbolic than actual (Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett confirmed that even with the "permanent" label, the extra $85 per pupil allocation could be cut next year if need arises as expected with a projected $41 million shortfall in the 2012-13 budget) -- divided trustees who'd appeared ready for a quick vote on the matter.

Arguing against the "permanent" designation, trustee Harvin Moore said: "We can't spend money that we don't have. If we don't save it for next year, then we will not reduce the problem we have next year. If we actually spend it on recurring things which is exactly what you do when you say permanent, our hole next year is no longer going to be 41 million, it'll be $59 million. We're in a hole. You can't dig yourself deeper in a hole."

"I don't think it's a good idea to pretend something's permanent when it's not. To pretend we're going to have money next year when we're not. So I will not support the amendment," Moore said. He was joined in voting against the amended and final motions by Greg Meyers and Board President Paula Harris.

The initial proposal from Superintendent Terry Grier already had been rewritten after intense discussion at Monday's agenda meeting.

Grier had wanted to set aside the $18.5 million (the difference between what HISD had thought it was getting from the state and what it actually got) against the 2012-13 school year. He also proposed taking an equal amount from a one-time $33 million federal Ed Jobs grant to go back to the campuses this year, but wanted to limit what it could be used for and specified that no money could be used for fulltime jobs.

At Monday's meeting, several trustees argued that when they voted on the budget last spring, they had promised to return any state overage to the campuses and they continued to feel how that money was used should be left up to the principals' discretion. Those voting with Eastman were Juliet Stipeche, Carol Mims Galloway, Larry Marshall and Manuel Rodriguez. Trustee Mike Lunceford was absent.

The rewritten version presented Thursday night said that all of the $33 million federal grant should "be used to offset health insurance costs for all staff members at the campus level." It also called for the district to set aside $18.5 million from its general fund now against the 2012-13 expected shortfall.

Houston Federation of Teachers Representative Zeph Capo argued that the $33 million should be used to restore teachers' jobs, that a program entitled Federal Education Jobs Funds should, in fact, give people jobs rather than be applied to health care costs. "President Obama sent that money down the line to keep people working," he said.

So far, the district has rehired 317 laid-off employees, which Chief Human Resources Officer Ann Best said was due to "natural attrition" and not because the district dismissed too many people.

In other action, the board:

-- Agreed with Grier to hold off for one year on including students' standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. The administration had argued that data from the new state test won't be readily available in a form they can use.

-- Amended its antidiscrimination policies for students and teachers to include sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

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