Houston schools unveil blueprint for addressing operational issues

February 23, 2024

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) is making a series of systemic changes, including developing a budgeting process to address system operational problems. School officials created a report detailing problems that are financially costly and hinder student education. HISD is the nation’s seventh-largest school district with more than 216,00 students, according to 2019 U.S. Census figures.

The district identified eight key areas presenting operational issues in the recently released HISD Efficiency Report, including broken HR and transportation systems, wasteful spending and extreme overtime abuse. Other problems include frequently outsourcing work to contractors that could have been performed by HISD employees, a bureaucracy filled with obstacles and excessive curricula and programs that lack quality standards.

“This report provides an honest, introspective assessment of how well HISD is operating in service of its core mission,” said Greater Houston Partnership President and CEO Steve Kean. “While it illuminates systemic challenges, it also shows a true path forward – including many steps that are already underway.”

The Houston Partnership, which serves as a local chamber of commerce, has long called for a new approach for HISD, spurred in part by 2023 standardized testing results showing declining proficiency in reading, math and science. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) took over HISD last year, replacing the superintendent and elected board of trustees with a board of managers and a new superintendent appointed by the state.

School officials pointed to a new action planning and budgeting process as an essential step toward keeping HISD above an $850 million fund balance and helping ensure resources are well-spent.

“An aligned and effective budget process is necessary for ensuring the district’s resources are used to maximize the ability to accomplish goals,” the 32-page report notes. “One cannot prioritize resources if the action planning process is not tightly aligned with the budget development.”

As part of the way forward, HISD is also developing systems to help determine if the services of a vendor are needed or if an HISD employee can do a particular task or project. Further, the report details ways the district is strengthening its HR, payroll, and transportation systems.

To address what it calls an “overreliance on purchased services” HISD said it will cut its budget in that sector by $50 million in the 2024-2025 budget. “This will force a review of programs and services that are either not aligned with the District Action Plan or that have failed to achieve established goals.” Purchased services can include the use of plumbers and other technicians for facility maintenance and professional development experts.

The report notes HISD’s use of 60-passenger buses along 520 routes with average ridership of fewer than 17 students per route. “Just doubling the number of students per bus would save the district approximately $25 million a year,” it reads. “Too many of our Houston students are not achieving what we know they are capable of,” Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles said in a statement following the report’s release. “That’s why we’re making big changes – with urgency – to raise the quality of instruction and ensure our kids catch up in their learning, develop the skills they need for the future world, and graduate ready to succeed in college, work, and life.”

Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash

Paul Stinson

Paul Stinson has more than 15 years of journalism experience, including a decade covering the legislative and regulatory affairs of Texas, South Africa, and Germany for an affiliate of Bloomberg, L.P. His experience includes covering voting rights and the sectors of environment, energy, labor, healthcare, and taxes. Stinson joined the team in October as a reporter for SPI’s news publications, which include Government Contracting Pipeline, Texas Government Insider, and the newly-launched Government Market News. He is also a Fulbright Scholar to Germany, and an Arthur F. Burns Fellow. He holds a master’s in journalism from Indiana University.   

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