Updated:Terry Grier's Rightsizing May Mean Adios For Some Teachers and HISD Schools

Update:HISD Spokesman Jason Spencer says there are 66 not 69 underpopulated schools and that designation has nothing to do with "capacity." See below.

Superintendent Terry Grier, while "trying not to be Chicken Little," brought Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett in to today's media roundtable to try to explain the possible seriousness of how much Houston ISD might have to cut in the next year.

As most all Texans know by now, the state is digging in its pockets looking for spare change. Comptroller Susan Coombs will have her budget estimate out in early January -- the shortfall is estimated at the $11 billion to $28 billion range, Garrett said, so it's hard to pin much of anything down other than the fact that cutbacks are on the horizon.

Some 45 percent of the state's budget goes to education, so there's pretty much no way that's not getting hit and since 85-88 percent of HISD's costs are in salary and benefits, "if we have to cut losts of money, it will impact people," Garrett said.

Up for discussion at Thursday morning's school board workshop meeting is the topic of rightsizing. Grier said today there are 69 66 schools that are "underpopulated," which means their student bodies are significantly less than what each campus was designed for they have fewer students than other schools of their kind (See update below). At the same time, Grier said, the district might be opening up new schools elsewhere so that it can remain competitive with private schools.

To increase revenue, the three main things the district can do, Grier said, is decrease the dropout rate, increase the attendance rate and "attract more kids back to HISD."

To decrease expenditures, Grier is talking about cutting back on central office staff, and combining or eliminating small departments. He's told all departments to start the year with zero-based budgeting. But even all that won't make up all the difference if HISD has to lose between $60 million to $163 million a year in funding over the next biennium depending on what funding formula is adopted, he and Garrett said.

Further complicating things is that the Legislature may not be done with its fiscal determinations by the time HISD and other public school districts have to submit their budgets to the state. So there's going to be a lot of guesstimating going on.

Update: HISD's Jason Spencer says "under-enrolled schools" are the following: Elementary schools with fewer than 500 students; middle schools and pre-K through grade 8 schools with fewer than 750 students; and high schools with fewer than 1,250 students.

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