For the FY 2020-21 budget, the district approved what officials described as a “bare bones” budget that did not include employee raises due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
For next year, however, HISD Chief Financial Officer Billy Beattie said officials plan to increase employee compensation, add about 150 new staff positions and serve an estimated 1,000 new students.
"I think we're all very excited about what this budget does and what this budget has," he said.
Balancing the budget
The district's proposed operating budget revenue, which includes anticipated local, state and federal revenue, is set at about $456.55 million, according to district officials. Meanwhile, the district expects to spend $455.41 in the operating budget this year—leaving about $1.14 million in surplus, HISD Chief Communications Officer Jamie Mount said via email.
This is a stark difference from the FY 2020-21 budget, where the district projected a $13.86 million surplus but ended up with a $14 million surplus. Beattie said the district is anticipating less of a surplus than last year because HISD is planning to use most of the surplus from 2020-21.
"Why we're so excited about this budget is, we did a lot of the preparation last year. So we didn't know what was happening, and we left a lot of budget capacity on the table to be prepared for the worst-case scenario," he said.
Additionally, Mount said the operating budget could change depending on the outcome of bills in the 87th Texas Legislature that would specifically affect components of school funding.
"The Texas Legislature continues to meet until May 31 and the district will receive updated information in June," she said.
HISD's proposed budget also includes a 3% average raise for all employees, a $1,400 retention stipend added to base pay for teachers, a $1,000 stipend for other staff and raising the minimum hourly wage for full-time auxiliary staff members to $11.50.
The district is also bumping its starting teacher salary from $56,700 to $59,000; the district did not raise its base pay in the 2020-21 year due to unknowns from the coronavirus pandemic.
The new base pay will keep HISD competitive among other school districts in the Houston region, according to Rick Gardner, associate superintendent of human resources at HISD.
HISD officials also discussed federal funding. School districts across the state will be eligible for millions of federal stimulus dollars from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER.
HISD is eligible to receive about $35 million from the third round of ESSER funding that was approved in March. The round will fund learning recovery efforts across the state over the next three years. Of that, at least $7 million must be allocated to address student learning loss, Beattie said.
Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said much of the ESSER 3 funding will be provided through reimbursements to the district, rather than a $35 million lump sum from the Texas Education Agency.
"When the board does decide what we would like to do, we would probably be spending out of fund balance and then [getting] reimbursement from the state," she said. "We won't be getting a check for $35 million that we'll just write out of. It's the opposite of that."
HISD has proposed multiple options on how to spend the ESSER 3 funding, including adding mental health services to its two health and wellness clinics; investing in virtual learning studios; spending $2 million for the wet-bottom detention pond near Humble High School; hiring additional dyslexia and bilingual support specialists; and launching a pilot program to add Section 504 facilitators to the elementary level, to name a few.
Mount said the district is currently working on its application for the ESSER 3 funding, which is due July 27.