While the raises were celebrated by the board, trustees and House were both quick to point out that they are being made possible in part thanks to one-time federal coronavirus relief dollars. A lot of work and tough questions lie ahead as the deadline to spend that money approaches and the district faces a potential "fiscal cliff" in the 2024-25 school year, House said.
"As I’ve reiterated throughout the budget development process, I am keenly aware that the one-time funds we're using to support many of our strategic investments are just that—they are one-time funds," House said at the June 9 meeting. "These resources have allowed us to make major investments in our students and teachers, but we know that these funds are not permanent."
The adopted $2.2 billion budget is expected to result in a $30 million deficit in the 2022-23 school year, according to a district presentation. About $100 million in one-time funds are being used to plug holes, including $50 million that will be allocated as discretionary money at the district's highest-need campuses.
The increase in teacher pay will be seen across all levels with the starting salary for new teachers increasing to $61,500, up from $56,869.
As of May 19, HISD had allocated $607.4 million of the $1.16 billion in coronavirus relief funds from the ESSER—or Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief—allocations. The remaining funds must be spent by the end of the 2023-24 school year.
The teacher salary increases were part of a five-year strategic plan being pitched by House, and future increases are anticipated to keep the district competitive. Moving forward, he said bringing the plan to life will require restructuring how the district approaches budgets.
The start of those efforts could be seen in the $60 million cut from HISD central office spending in the fiscal year 2022-23 budget, House said. He emphasized that no cuts were made to the HISD police department, the financial team or legal services.
At the June 9 meeting, House gave a general outline of how he saw the district's "fiscal transformation" playing out over the next few years. In the near-term, House said the district is developing school-level budgeting guidance to better help school leaders when it comes to financial management.
Over the course of the 2022-23 school year, House said the district will conduct a cost-benefit analysis to better inform how it should be spending its money and determine ways to make its budgets more accurate. By October 2023, House said the district will begin redeveloping its departmental budgeting process and further reducing central office spending.
Although the budget was approved unanimously, several trustees and public speakers said they were concerned about deficits and potential layoffs or school closures if district enrollment numbers do not improve.
However, those who are eager to see the district improve its academic outcomes said paying teachers more is an important first step.
"For HISD to attract and retain staff at a time of national labor education shortages, we know that it is imperative that we make this investment," House said.