Officials with the office of Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles released a report Feb. 20 alleging long-standing operational inefficiencies within the district, including wasteful spending, overtime abuse, unnecessary contractor agreements, and problems with the district’s human resources and transportation systems.

The overview

The report outlines several operational issues that officials believe have been adversely affecting the district, including:
  • Ineffective budgeting processes leading to overspending
  • An over-reliance on purchased services
  • A broken human resources department and inefficient hiring practices
  • A dysfunctional transportation system
  • A decentralized system of autonomous schools without a structured accountability system
Miles, who was appointed by the Texas Education Agency to serve as superintendent last June, said the report provides a roadmap for how the district will address the challenges moving forward.

“We are sharing this report with the community so people know the major challenges in our system, how they impact what educators are working to do for kids, and how we will fix these problems to make our district more effective and efficient,” Miles said in a Feb. 20 news release. “Too many of our Houston students are not achieving what we know they are capable of. That’s why we’re making big changes—with urgency—to raise the quality of instruction.”

A closer look

The report highlighted several instances in which officials said the district engaged in wasteful spending practices.

According to Miles, the district's human resources department approved roughly $26 million in overtime pay last year, with most of the overtime expenditures coming from hourly workers in the district’s central office.

Additionally, Miles said the district spent roughly $20 million on 175 new buses in 2023, noting the district already had 225 extra buses to support the 520 buses it uses daily.

Miles said the district’s transportation system as a whole is in need of reform. HISD spends roughly $56 million annually on transportation costs, which equates to about $6,400 per student each year. By increasing the number of students riding on each bus, Miles said the district could save around $25 million a year.

Miles said much of the overspending can be attributed to a lack of a unified accountability system. He said the existing system is fragmented in a way that gave departments and schools a level of autonomy that often led to individual campuses operating on budget deficits.

Miles said officials are creating a planning and budgeting process that will align each of the campuses and departments within the district under the same system.

Also of note

Miles also pointed to a lack of oversight over the use of contractors and purchased services. He said a number of vendor contracts have been left incomplete without specific information regarding how much the district was obligated to pay or a scope of work.

To remedy this, Miles said officials are revising the district’s purchasing and contracting regulations, and will be provide training to staff members as well as vendors and contractors.

Additionally, Miles said the district has been overly reliant on purchasing services he said can be provided internally by district staff at a fraction of the cost.

According to the report, HISD spent more than $300 million on professional and contracted services during fiscal year 2017-18, including contracts for financial consulting services and teacher development programs. That figure represented 9% of the district’s total spending over that time frame.

Miles said the district is aiming to slash about $50 million in purchased services from its FY 2024-25 budget. He said the district is in the process of reviewing contracts over $250,000 that were signed within the last four years in an effort to identify programs and services that have failed to achieve their established goals.

Concerning teacher recruitment, Miles said the district’s hiring processes were overly bureaucratic and focused on a candidate’s application and paperwork rather than taking steps to discern a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.

According to the report, approximately 12 individuals spanning several departments and teams were involved in the recruiting and onboarding of a single employee.

To address this, Miles said campus principals will play a larger role in evaluating candidates directly. Additionally, all teachers applying to work for the district for the first time will be subject to a performance interview requiring candidates to demonstrate the quality of their teaching.

What's next

Moving forward, Miles said the district will begin to train principals and other school leaders on the action plans outlined in the report as well as new budget development processes. As the school year progresses, district leaders will work with individual campuses to create focused action plans for those schools.

District officials are already in the process of drafting the budget for FY 2024-25. According to the report, department budgets will be finalized by April. The district's board of managers will consider approving the budget for FY 2024-25 in June.