HISD superintendent delivers annual State of the Schools report

By Aaron Barker - Senior Digital Editor, Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

HOUSTON - Houston ISD held its State of the Schools Thursday at the Hilton Americas-Houston downtown.

The theme was "Rebuild & Reimagine."  

Some topics that were addressed included rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey, streamlining the deficit, innovating teaching and learning in every classroom, elevating historically underserved schools, bringing wraparound services to schools to meet the social and emotional needs of students outside the classroom and sparking young imaginations through the expansion of the fine arts.

Here are the top 5 things addressed.

WATCH: HISD's State of the Schools 2018

1. Budget & Education Funding Reform

The district is working to overcome a $208 million budget deficit.

"I want the public to understand that there is not a magic pot of money and in the end we're going to be saved. We're going to have to cut $208 million," said Superintendent Richard Carranza.

The district said it needs to streamline costly inefficiencies. It is taking a comprehensive approach to addressing the budget. Previously, layoffs were discussed. Carranza mentioned that he would not cut security forces at schools, especially after the deadly shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida.

"We're a large urban district in a very large city in an urban environment. Security will always be paramount to us. So again, we're not looking at cutting our security forces. We're looking at some efficiencies. We're looking at how to do we work with local municipal agencies in perhaps a different way that provides us more coverage and more opportunities but given the news of what came out of Parkland, Florida, no one should be talking about less opportunity," Carranza said.

The district said it would be able to overcome the deficit if it did not have to pay the state. Though 76 percent

of the 214,000 students at HISD are economically disadvantaged, HISD is still considered "property-wealthy." HISD has to pay $260 million back to the state for recapture, a practice required for "property-wealthy" districts to send millions of their local property taxes to the state to distribute to poorer school districts.

"Ironically, if we did not have a recapture payment and the state of Texas would step up to its constitutionally required duty to properly fund public education, we could eliminate the deficit at HISD and have additional funds to provide resources for our students in the communities that need it most," said Carranza. "It's not a secret that the public funding system for education is broken in the state of Texas."

Carranza pushed for people to support local leaders who are advocating for a change in the way schools are funded, stating that property taxes are not enough for the needs of children, especially in urban environments.

"We need a funding system that doesn't heavily rely on local property taxes. We continue to do more with less, and the state isn't doing anything to help all school districts," said Carranza.

"We need a funding system that doesn't heavily rely on local property taxes. We continue to do more with less, and the state isn't doing anything to help all school districts," said Carranza.

2. Harvey & Plans for Rebuilding

Hurricane Harvey cost the district $70 million. Carranza said some effects of the storm are a significant drop in student enrollment for the next school year, a trend they saw following Hurricane Ike. The district also expected property values would drop by 3 to 5 percent, translating to millions in lost property tax revenue, which would go to funding the district. However, the district has drastic plans to innovate education at schools to make for higher-quality education despite the deficit.

“Now, you might be reading or hearing that there’s no possible way for us to be successful in the face of our challenges. I defy that,” Carranza said. “But, I have seen firsthand the strong spirit of the Houston community, and I know that we can live up to the promise of equity.”

After the 2012 Bond Program, the district has opened 13 schools since September and the district is on track to finish almost 20 more by the end of 2018.

The district announced a 20-year campaign that outlines all school and facility replacements and district needs -- a key to anticipating and being prepared for years, according to Carranza.

"We are using a strong facility assessment and student growth data -- not politics and loud voices -- to determine where new schools are built and where old ones are replaced," Carranza said.

The campaign would call for four "thoughtful" bond referendums over the next two decades.

The money would be used to create 21st century learning facilities.

3. Underperforming schools

Ten schools remain on the list of chronically underperforming schools that have failed to meet state standards for five or more years. Those schools face closure or having their leadership turned over to a board of managers appointed by the TEA. Carranza said he would not let schools close or have outside leadership take over.

"I, as your superintendent, will not allow our schools in our historically underserved neighborhoods to be closed," Carranza said. "We as a district are exploring options as a campus that could prevent their closure. SB 1882 gives us a few options, one that allows us to partner with outside organizations like a nonprofit or college or university. ... We need your support and enlightened conversation around saving our schools," he said.

Other options were revamping educational programs for the next school year to bring up scores.

4. Magnet School Program

HISD is looking at dividing the district into quadrants and offering the same magnet themes in each of the four quadrants. Unique magnets like Carnegie Vanguard and HSPVA will stay unique, but may not receive the same kind of funding they have received in the past.

“Much of what they reported back to me and my staff does not surprise me. Our magnet and school choice program, as it exists right now, has inequities. It has inequities in funding. It has inequities in staffing, It has inequities in where our top programs are located," said Carranza.

The plan would move from a decentralized model where schools receive funding and decide how to spend it, to a centralized funding model called the Full-Time Equivalent model, or FTE. That could mean that funding will go to the district and the district would, for example, tell principals how many positions they can hire based on enrollment.

"No matter what part of Houston they live in, they deserve access to quality schools and programs in the district," said Carranza.

5. Innovation & 're-imagining' education

The district said it hopes to focus educating students as "whole students," taking into account and addressing needs that exist sometimes outside the classroom mainly due to socioeconomic status.

"We are making a commitment to educate the 'whole child.' We are re-imagining how we support out students outside the classroom and expanding services such as housing food or health care," Carranza said.

The district took pride in its efforts to feed all students three meals a day, citing poverty as a barrier to a quality education. It is also making plans to have its "wraparound services" in all schools. The services provide coordinators that aim to meet outside-school needs of children.

He applauded coordinator Washma Isaq-Zov, who distributed Metro passes to students whose families had no transportation, helped another student fight deportation and looked for supplies for those who had little or nothing.

The school is also expanding its arts program to all elementary schools. 

"The arts help our students develop a nonverbal language that makes them effective communicators," Carranza said.

HISD Foundation also contributed more than $30,000 in grant money for innovative student projects. 

The district hopes to encourage more hands-on learning experience and said it had plans to expand partnerships with businesses to give students exposure to the workforce before graduating.

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