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Pflugerville ISD is now considering closing only one school: Dessau Elementary

A shot of the back of people wearing headphones and sitting in rows
Patricia Lim
Families listen to the Spanish translation of a Pflugerville ISD school board meeting discussing possible school closures in January.

Pflugerville ISD is considering closing Dessau Elementary as part of an effort to cut costs in the face of a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

When PfISD officials first announced they were looking at school closures in mid-December, there were six different elementary campuses on the chopping block. But last month — after 10 community meetings — that changed. Superintendent Douglas Killian said at a board meeting on Jan. 19 that the district was researching the impact of closing one to two elementary schools and that it was choosing between three campuses: Dessau, Parmer Lane and River Oaks.

Then last Friday, Killian sent families an email saying that PfISD had whittled down the potential closures to one school. Killian said the district was no longer looking at closing Parmer Lane and River Oaks next year. He said, instead, the goal is to create a campus and parent-led campaign aimed at increasing enrollment.

“A dedicated group of advocates has offered to partner with us to explore recruitment and retention options,” he wrote. “We are grateful for this partnership and look forward to seeing what we can do together to keep ROES and PLES thriving.”

Killian said PfISD was still researching the impact of closing Dessau Elementary for a couple of reasons. First, Dessau is close to other elementary schools that have space for more students. Second, he said, the campus has struggled academically for several years.

“While the district has provided additional funding, resources, and support to the campus, we struggle to make adequate progress,” Killian wrote in the email.

The Texas Education Agency, which grades public school districts primarily on standardized test scores, listed Dessau as “Not Rated” during the 2021-2022 school year — a score given to schools that receive anything lower than a C rating. River Oaks and Parmer Lane, in contrast, received B ratings. All three campuses are Title I schools, which means they have a high percentage of students who are considered economically disadvantaged.

But Dessau Principal Teyan Allen disagreed with the superintendent’s characterization of her campus, saying it lacked “compassion and thoughtfulness.” Allen spoke out at a PfISD school board meeting on Monday that was rescheduled after last week’s ice storm.

“While it is important to be transparent and clear, it is also important to be mindful and respectful,” she said. “I was very disheartened to read details about our school that were not necessary or helpful.”

Allen told trustees that Dessau is more than a campus that has struggled academically.

“It is composed of excellent educators and support staff who give more than imaginable. It is filled with capable, competent and talented students,” she said. “The culture of our campus is one of pride, commitment and passion.”

A handful of Dessau teachers and staff also addressed the school board. Among them was Courtney Berger, who has worked at Dessau in a variety of roles for nine years. She said she knew the board faced a tough decision over how to save money.

“What I ask is this: please do not let our amazing campus be reduced to a few sentences about a lack of academic success or viewed as a sore spot in PfISD,” she said.

Karen Vargas, who has a son in kindergarten at Dessau, also attended Monday’s board meeting. Vargas told KUT that she only learned about the possible closure from the superintendent’s email last week and now she’s considering leaving the district.

“I have already started looking at maybe charter schools just because it was heartbreaking not to have learned about what was going on before,” she said.

Vargas said it is especially disappointing because her son loves Dessau’s staff.

“He’s just starting to get used to his school," Vargas said. "We had a hard time with him adjusting [to] pre-K, but he loves his school."

She added that she likes Dessau Elementary because it has a bilingual education program, and her son is fluent in both English and Spanish. District officials said if the school board decides to close Dessau, about 100 of the school’s students in pre-K through fourth grade would be rezoned to Pflugerville Elementary, which also has a bilingual program.

Dessau students would also be rezoned based on where they live. Some students would go to Wieland Elementary, while others would go to Delco. To make space at Delco, more than 120 of that school’s students would shift to Copperfield Elementary.

Superintendent Killian has previously estimated that closing a single elementary campus would save about $2.5 million. But he has repeatedly warned the district will need to make more cuts, especially if it wants to offer raises to teachers and staff. PfISD is looking at cutting programs as well as reducing the amount of time middle and high school teachers have to plan for classes.

“These are horrible decisions, and closing a school is never a good decision," Killian said. "It always is a bad decision."

Killian continued to encourage families to reach out to the Texas Legislature to advocate for more public education funding, such as raising per student funding to keep up with inflation. However, he expressed little optimism that lawmakers will use their historic $33 billion budget surplus to help schools.

“They’re not going to save us,” he said. “They haven’t saved us yet.”

School Board President Vernagene Mott said trustees have hard decisions ahead.

“What we’re facing is very complex, complicated," she said. "It’s a conundrum, and we have to work together."

The PfISD school board may decide at its Feb. 23 meeting whether to close Dessau Elementary. The district is still accepting feedback on the proposed attendance boundary adjustments here.

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