2011 wasn't an easy year in the education world. The Texas legislature cut more than $5 billion from school funding.
In HISD that amounted to a loss of $78 million.
District Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier says they are facing more cuts next year if lawmakers don't act.
"HISD has 835 fewer teachers than when we gathered here last year. Students have lost field trips, librarians, nurses, art teachers and P.E. coaches. Central office staff is down more than 700 positions over the past few years."
HISD could lose an additional $40 million in the coming year. Classrooms are already overcrowded.
But Grier says despite the financial setbacks, the district is improving academically. He says fewer students are dropping out, students are scoring higher on Advanced Placement exams and SATs and 88 percent of graduating seniors were accepted into college in 2011.
"Now none of this achievement could have happened if students didn't feel safe in their schools. The number of crimes reported on HISD campuses last year is nine percent lower than five years ago. And our daily attendance rate is 95 percent. Quite frankly, that's unheard of in urban education in America."
Grier also touted the success of the Apollo 20 program, a turnaround project for 20 low-performing schools. Grier says last year at his state of the schools address, he was cautiously optimistic about the early results of that 3-year program.
"Apollo 20 students made gains in math equal to more than three additional months learning. These gains were strikingly similar to those seen in successful charter schools. Put bluntly, students in the Apollo schools are sending a loud message to those who doubted them: don't count us out. This year we've expanded the Apollo program into eleven elementary schools and we have high hopes that next year we'll be telling you about the strong gains made by these children as well."
Gayle Fallon is president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, the largest union in the district. She's a frequent critic of HISD, but says she agrees with Grier about academic improvements in the district.
"I think as far as student performance things are improving, our people are working hard and we've got a good group of teachers in HISD. Ultimately that's what brings up student performance."
Fallon says the possibility of more funding cuts is terrifying.
"The cuts this coming year are deeper. And I don't know that we'll need layoffs, we have a lot of people who are retiring. But there's only so many kids you can cram into a classroom."
Dr. Grier told the crowd of 2,000 there are schools that are still underperforming, but his goal for HISD is to be able to say he'd be proud to send his own children to any school in the district.