On Monday, more Houston teachers could find out whether they’re one of the roughly 250 staff members laid off by the Houston Independent School District.
Zeph Capo, President of the Houston Federation of Teachers, believes roughly 50 or so teachers had found out and said more could get that bad news Monday.
So how did the state’s largest school district end up facing a $115 million budget shortfall and laying off staff?
“A perfect storm of disaster,” said Capo, mentioning Harvey, which not only damaged schools, but also washed away many of the property tax dollars HISD depends on.
Capo also blames the district’s decentralized funding system, where dollars flow directly to the schools.
“There’s no other school district in the area who does their internal school financing the way we do it,” said Capo. “All of the schools that don’t have the money are letting these teachers go.”
Capo says in a more centralized system, which former Superintendent Richard Carranza had championed before he left to lead New York City schools, those teachers could be placed into a pool of applicants to fill the 1,500 plus annual vacancies the district sees each year.
HISD spokesperson Tracy Clemons said Monday that the district is not considering transitioning to a more centralized financial model this year.
Another huge financial blow: the State of Texas recently began forcing HISD to make “Robin Hood” payments to less wealthy school districts.
“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.”
Capo says that includes students at many of the ten schools in danger of closing, which the district had considered turning into charter schools before tabling the idea after a contentious school board meeting.
“I know what happens to those kids and what happens to those communities (after closures),” said Rhonda Skillern-Jones, HISD’s Board President, during an interview on April 27. “I am trying at all costs to find solutions to avoid that because that’s a very real possibility.”
Mayor Sylvester Turner pledged the city’s help on April 25 and is asking the state to grant the district a one-year waiver on accountability measures due to stress inflicted on students by Hurricane Harvey.
“You cannot have a dynamic city if you don’t also have a school district that’s moving in the same direction,” said Turner.
Capo says he’s hopeful laid-off teachers and staff can re-apply for the vacant positions.
HISD officials said in a statement on April 25, “our Human Resources Department will host several career support workshops available to all affected employees starting May 1. During these workshops, topics including benefits and leave balances, career marketing, resume writing, and interview tips will be addressed.”