Last Thursday, the Houston ISD school board met for the first meeting of the 2018-19 school year. Despite some new technology in the board auditorium, the same antagonism, lack of clarity, and lack of collaboration that marked the end of last year have returned this year. The most watched agenda item this month was the approval of teacher pay increases, which were not included the budget that the board first failed, then passed in June. In order to match last year’s pay scale, the district may have to increase the projected deficit from $18 to $24 million.
While the board ultimately voted to approve the increases, most board members spent the meeting pointing fingers at administrators, state leaders, and each other, in an attempt to excuse the fact that no one acknowledged the pay scale discrepancy before approving the budget two months ago. The generally negative tone of the meeting indicated not only a lack of collaboration – both among trustees and between the board and the administration – in the moment, but it also brought to light the board’s struggle to set budgeting priorities that line up with the district goals. It is true that we have a funding problem at the state level, but adding more money to a budget with no vision-aligned priorities or clear understanding of what is and is not working will put us in the same position year after year. We hope that trustees are already working together to establish – and share – clear, vision-aligned priorities for next year’s budget.