Spending

Houston ISD freezes campus spending, central office hiring as part of budget calculation

ISD Houston Superintendent Millard House II on March 3 announced a central office hiring freeze effective immediately, along with a reduction in central office budgets and an on-campus spending freeze for the rest. of the 2021-22 financial year. (Community Impact newspaper staff)

ISD Houston Superintendent Millard House II on March 3 announced a central office hiring freeze effective immediately, along with a reduction in central office budgets and an on-campus spending freeze for the rest. of the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The announcements were made at a budget workshop on March 3 ahead of the passage of the 2022-23 budget expected this summer. House said the freezes are necessary as HISD tries to deal with what he called “a structural budget deficit that will continue to grow if left unchecked.” The district faces a potential budget shortfall of $69 million this year.

“We will move aggressively … to address our financial challenges and be transparent about the tough choices that need to be made to get us through this,” House said.

The freeze will save the district about $100 million in unspent dollars, which House says will now be subject to tighter controls on how they can be spent. Departments and principals will have the opportunity to make requests which will be reviewed by central office for approval.

“We’re all going to have to be ready to tighten our belts, make those adjustments, and make sure that commitment really moves forward in this administration,” House said. “It makes sense to focus on that now and not wait for another exercise.”

The campus freeze affected 75% of each school’s general funds. Funding levels that have been dedicated to specific needs — including payroll, special education, Magnet funding, and programs for the gifted and talented — will be maintained.

Some HISD board members have expressed concern about the consequences of directors losing their unspent funds on short notice. HISD officials said the intent was to prevent unspent money from being spent just for fun, and the district is working with principals to ensure important needs are met.

The March 3 workshop was also the first time the district presented financial details on how it plans to bring to life a five-year strategic plan released in February.

The plan outlines strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers and improving equity in the district, among other goals. There should also be a nurse, an associate nurse and a librarian or media specialist in each school.

HISD officials have introduced a new compensation plan for all district employees, including proposed pay and step increases over the next three years. Based on a recent survey, House said about a third of teachers in the district plan to leave the district next school year, a trend he says demands urgency.

The compensation plan is based on an analysis of compensation in other school districts and market trends, said HISD chief talent officer Jeremy Grant-Skinner. The district reviewed teachers, principals, vice-principals and police officers as separate groups, as well as the main pay scale, which includes all employees.

“What we see in these results is a lack of current competitiveness in pretty much all of these groups,” he said at the March 3 meeting.

Among other changes, the strategic plan calls for a sort of cost-of-living adjustment to the teacher salary scale of 4% in addition to step increases every year for the next three years. By the 2024-25 school year, teachers’ starting salaries will increase from $56,869 to $64,000, he said.

“That would mean we would be above the average of our regional competitors in this third year, even if they continue to grow at the same rate as in the past three years,” Grant-Skinner said.

The estimated cost of the new compensation plan, including benefits, would be about $82.7 million in the 2022-23 school year, Grant-Skinner said.

The budget conversation will continue in upcoming budget workshops, including workshops that will focus on immediate short-term fiscal challenges, strategic plan fiscal considerations, and a long-term fiscal perspective that will focus on the structural deficit. The district is also considering whether a bond election would be appropriate, House said.

“There are going to have to be bigger cuts as we move forward, and that will be part of what the next 12 months will be,” House said.