Houston Independent School District (HISD) now faces a $115 million deficit as a result of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, among other factors. Several schools have closed, and a loss of tax revenues combined with some longstanding issues have forced the decision. In an effort to balance the operating budget, the school board has announced a need to layoff up to 250 teachers.
Teachers are none too happy about the decision since there are some 1,500 vacancies throughout the Houston area generated annually that need to be filled. Rather than lay the teachers off, they believe that they should be reassigned, KHOU 11 News reported.
The current decentralized funding model doesn't allow for such an approach. If a school doesn't have the budget to pay for the teachers, then they will have to let them go. Those displaced educators would start from square one by applying for open positions. HISD has vowed to assist the teachers in the hiring process.
School board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones has vowed to do everything in her power to keep the schools open. Unfortunately, payroll is the single largest controllable expense. There are several schools across the city that closed for repairs after the storm and those students were sent to nearby campuses. Classroom size has spiked and could skyrocket in the event that all of these layoffs happen.
President of the Houston Federation of Teachers Zeph Capo told KHOU that the largest school district in Texas is in shambles because the circumstances created a "perfect storm of disaster." In addition to the post-Harvey school closures, lost tax revenue, a vacancy in the superintendent position, and 10 troubled schools that face a permanent shutdown, the state of Texas is making HISD pay money to poorer school districts. Capo stressed that those districts may have less operating cash, but HISD has a greater need.
"We may have wealthy properties in HISD, but we have very poor kids and high concentrations of them," said Capo. "They need more dollars than the average student in Katy or Cy-Fair."While recovery efforts continue across the city, HISD's dilemma has garnered the attention of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. He has vowed to advocate for the district to get funding and more time to rebuild before state school assessments begin.
Skillern-Jones said that the worst possible thing that can happen to a community is the closure of its schools' doors. While this is a very real possibility, her aim is to ensure that it doesn't happen.
"I know what happens to those kids and what happens to those communities (after closures)," said Rhonda Skillern-Jones said during an April 27 interview. "I am trying at all costs to find solutions to avoid that because that's a very real possibility."