- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

HOUSTON (AP) - The decision by Houston school trustees to create 10 specialty magnet programs without input from outgoing Superintendent Terry Grier or earmarking funds has led to questions about how they will be funded.

The Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest with about 215,000 students, faces a projected $100 million budget shortfall, according to the Houston Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1VxY4tj ).

In an interview Friday, Grier said trustees who voted on the programs Jan. 14 should have been aware of looming financial problems. His staff plans to provide more details during a board workshop Thursday. The district would have 119 magnet programs with the additions.

The gap stems from a change in the state’s funding formula that would designate the district as property-wealthy and require it to return money to be shared with poorer school systems, the newspaper reported.

Deputy Superintendent Ken Huewitt, the district’s financial chief, said Friday that he does not expect relief unless local property values decrease dramatically, student enrollment increases significantly or lawmakers convene for a special session. The $100 million projection would represent cutting about 5 percent of the district’s operating budget.

Three of the 10 schools granted new programs applied for magnet status last year, but Grier’s staff didn’t seek approval from the board. Seven applied but were not included in the board decision, made at a session not attended by Grier.

Claudia Chavez-Pinto, principal of Crockett Elementary, said she was “ecstatic” the board created a fine-arts magnet program on her campus. She said she and her predecessor applied to the district four times but were rejected. In 2012, she recalled, district staff said the school needed to improve its student attendance rate.

“It was a long-deserving designation,” Chavez-Pinto said.

In September, Grier announced plans to leave the district on March 1, after leading it since 2009.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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