Workers rally as job, program and service cuts threaten HISD

As layoffs and cutbacks threaten HISD, a group of employees and community leaders rallied outside the district building. What are the workers demanding?  HISD school bus drivers are doing what they can to try to keep their jobs. They met up hoping to have their voices heard, but the HISD school board says, it’s inevitable, jobs and program cuts are coming.

The Houston Educational Support Personnel -- including drivers, custodians and food service workers -- gathered outside district headquarters as the board works to come up with a budget, but they're coming up $208 million short.

”People are walking on egg shells because they don't know if they're going to have a job,” says HISD bus driver Cloria Witherspoon, who’s been with the district for nine years.

“We don't have enough drivers as it is. That's why when they talked about the cuts, I just don't understand how they're going to scale back,” adds bus driver Missy Lindsay, who’s been driving for HISD for five years.

HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones says there will be job, program and service cuts because of the budget shortfall.

”We may clean classrooms once a week.  We may not empty trash every day.  We may double up bus routes.  We are going to have to increase class sizes,” explains Skillern-Jones. 

“Cutting the custodial staff. That's not going to work. There’s going to be flies and maggots,” says Houston Educational Support Personnel Union President Wretha Thomas. 

“Cutting cleaning services especially in one of the worst flu seasons that we've had in years is not acceptable,” says State Representative Ana Hernandez. 

There's also talk of some schools having their magnet status stripped away and students will have to attend the school they're zoned to.  The board says they can only work with the money they have. 

Skillern-Jones blames the bind on the $238 million recapture dollars HISD has to pay to the state. 

”If you come to my house, take away 40 percent of my income, ask me to write a check to help pay my neighbor's bill, how do I then sustain my own household?  It isn’t possible,” says Skillern-Jones. 

”We have got to take politics out of the way we fund our public education system,” says State Representative Carol Alvarado.

“I personally call out Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.  This is a rainy day.  Harvey hit, homes flooded, schools flooded,” says Harris County Department of Education Trustee Erica Lee Carter. 

We reached out to Governor Abbott asking if rainy day funds will be given to HISD.  A spokesperson in his office says he will find out from the Governor and get back to us.

”Fix it. Fix it. Fix it,” the HISD workers chanted and waved signs.

”This is a fight we've got to win and we've got to win it especially for the children,” adds State Representative Harold Dutton, who’s also on the Texas House Public Education Committee.

Those who rallied say there may not be an immediate solution, but they say ultimately the answer is to vote against the lawmakers who don’t vote for education funding.

 “When the primaries come up, when election day comes, look and see which legislatures vote against public education,” says Skillern-Jones. The board president says jobs will be cut this year and next, including teacher layoffs. 

We won't know exactly what will stay and what will be cut until the board comes up with a budget which will likely be early next month.