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Pflugerville ISD is now considering closing fewer schools. But other painful cuts could be ahead.

Parents, students and teachers hold a sign that says "We love Parmer Lane."
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
Parents, students and teachers rallied against the potential closure of Parmer Lane Elementary ahead of a PfISD school board meeting on Thursday.

The Pflugerville Independent School District is narrowing down which elementary campuses could be closed to help address the multimillion-dollar budget deficit it's facing. The move comes after the district held a series of community meetings during which teachers, parents and students pushed back against the closures.

Originally, when PfISD officials first presented 10 cost-saving proposals to the school board last month, six elementary schools were on the chopping block. They were Dessau, Spring Hill, River Oaks, Pflugerville, Parmer Lane, and Brookhollow. Seven of the 10 proposals suggested closing two to three of those campuses.

But at a school board meeting Thursday night, PfISD Superintendent Douglas Killian directed the district’s attendance boundary committee to look at closing one or two schools rather than two to three. He also told the group to only research the impact of closing Dessau, River Oaks or Parmer Lane.

“Now, Pflugerville Elementary will be studied to relieve the growth from the east side of the district,” he said.

The committee will also move forward with research on another plan that does not involve any closures but would move students at eight elementary schools to other campuses. Administrators will also do more research on a proposal to relieve overcrowding at Weiss High School. The plan moves students from Weiss to Hendrickson, Pflugerville and Connally high schools. Some students from Hendrickson would also need to be moved to Pflugerville High.

Killian also made clear that while he is directing the committee to collect more data on these four proposals, it is the PfISD school board that will ultimately decide whether to close schools. School board members said it is not a decision they would make lightly.

Board President Vernagene Mott said the turnout at the community meetings made clear how much teachers and families care about their local schools.

“Historically, before there was even a City of Pflugerville, it was the schools that made the community,” she said. “And the schools are the one thing that unite us and bring us together.”

Renae Mitchell said she and fellow trustees are also passionate about the schools and their own kids have attended them.

“I just want the parents and students to know that we’re taking this very [seriously] and nobody wants to close a school or repurpose a school, but we have to look at all our options,” she said.

Killian also continued to urge families to reach out to Texas lawmakers and advocate for more public education funding.

“To the members of the public, so we don’t want to do any of this. This is the legislature’s fault,” he said. “And you’re here to talk to us about saving your school — we need to save the school district.”

Killian said per student funding, also known as the basic allotment, has been stagnant since 2019. That is the year that lawmakers raised it to $6,160. He said if lawmakers raised that figure by another $900 to keep up with inflation, it would be a huge help to PfISD.

“If they just raised that $900 per student, you wouldn’t be here today because I’m not talking about doing cuts, I’m talking about giving a big raise to our staff members,” he said. “Because it would generate $20 million more for our district.

Killian said the Texas Legislature does have the money to increase the basic allotment, pointing to its nearly $33 billion budget surplus. But it’s not clear if the appetite for an increase is there. Spending proposals lawmakers released this week do not raise the basic allotment at all. Still, Democrats have filed bills to increase the basic allotment to reflect inflation.

Other financial challenges the district is facing, Killian said, include declining enrollment, the fact that state funding is based on student attendance, and PfISD becoming a recapture district.

“We need you guys to start advocating for us because [lawmakers] don’t care what I say as superintendent. They barely care what trustees say,” he said. “We need you to talk to our legislators and advocate for more funding for our schools.

Parents and teachers said they were ready to fight and go to bat for the district. Some gathered before the board meeting for a rally urging PfISD trustees not to close any schools. Among them was Irene Morales, an instructional coach at Parmer Lane Elementary. She told KUT that if the district holds off on closing schools, people are ready to mobilize.

“We’re not the only school district in dire straits. And Gov. [Greg] Abbott — they have the money they need to kick it in,” she said. “He’s very proud of what he’s done? We’re at the dregs as far as education goes, and there’s nothing he should be proud of.”

Longtime NFL player and Super Bowl Champion Alex Okafor was one of many speakers at Thursday’s board meeting who urged trustees not to close schools. He attended Spring Hill Elementary, which is no longer at risk of being closed.

“So, I’m now focusing my comments on making sure that we all do our part and support the other schools by reaching out to state lawmakers and requesting more funds,” he said. “As a community, we must make our presence felt.”

Killian cautioned that if the legislature does not increase funding for public education, there will be other tough choices ahead.

“If you think we're just closing schools, that’s not the whole story,” he said.

Killian unveiled a series of other measures he wants district staff to consider for cutting costs. He directed administrators to figure out how much money would be saved if middle school teachers had less time to plan for their classes during the school day. He also wants to see a plan to consolidate bilingual programs on fewer elementary school campuses.

“You notice that the pain is being spread around the district,” he said.

Another possibility Killian floated is reducing the number of instructional coaches by two-thirds and finding other positions for those employees within the district. He may also ask that department budgets be cut by 5% — something that has happened the last two years.

Killian also said that unless lawmakers increase state funding for public education, the district’s salary increases will be 2% or less. He warned that could make it harder to compete with other districts.

“I already know that Austin ISD is looking at 5[%] — that’s tough,” he said. “Now when they do 5, they only get up to our tail. So, they’re not paying as much as we are … but we need to stay ahead of them.”

PfISD said the attendance boundary committee will update the school board on its findings on Feb. 2. Trustees are slated to make a decision on whether to close schools later that month.

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Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at rfogel@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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