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HISD trying to deal with budget shortfall

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

HISD is dealing with a math problem that's not so easy to solve. It's tackling a huge budget shortfall. And now, the school district is holding a forum to prepare the community for what lies ahead.

Just last week, HISD announced it was cutting summer school hours for 2011, and charging for some programs because of a reduced budget. And it's likely more cuts are on the way.

They are the kind of changes parents don't want to see happen. One parent at Wharton Elementary cringed at the possibility of losing teachers or programs or both.

"I mean, we're operating on s shoestring budget as are other schools in HISD," said parent Marna Marsh.

Parent heard the financial forecast for next year's HISD budget and it is grim. The statewide budget shortfall is expected to range from $11 billion to $25 billion. Statewide property value shortfalls are an estimated at $3 billion.

With estimated 44 percent of the state's budget goes towards public education, HISD is expecting a sizeable whammy, a multi-million dollar shortfall. While an exact amount hasn't been calculated because state numbers have not been finalized, HISD is already bracing for what's being called sizeable cuts.

"We going through a zero-based budgeting process right now, which is making every department come in and defend everything they're doing," said HISD CFO Melind Agarrett. "These are hard times. We need to ask what we can do without."

HISD's current budget is $1.6 billion. The new budget, which has not been drafted, must be adopted by June 30 and must include an estimated shortfall of $18 to $20 million.

Last year, HISD cut more than 400 mostly central administrative positions to balance the budget. But this year, cuts could include teachers and that worries one parent we spoke with.

"We could have more children in the classroom, teachers won't get the support they need and additional stress added to just teaching our children," said parent Cathy Moore.

HISD expects to find out the state budget shortfall sometime next month. HISD is expected to draft their own budget in early spring.

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