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Pflugerville ISD won't close schools to save money, but a budget deficit looms

People hold signs saying "Let's solve this together."
Patricia Lim
Parents, students and teachers rallied against the potential closure of Parmer Lane Elementary ahead of a PfISD school board meeting last month. The school board ultimately decided not to look into closing the school.

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The Pflugerville Independent School District, which is facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, is no longer looking at closing campuses as a way to reduce costs.

“I am not going to make a recommendation to close a school tonight,” Superintendent Douglas Killian wrote in an email to staff about 15 minutes before Thursday’s school board meeting began. “I’m going to continue to try to work magic with smaller cuts and state advocacy. I need your help though.”

Killian urged PfISD families and staff to demand the Texas Legislature increase state funding for public education. He has made this call to action repeatedly since the district first announced the potential school closures in December.

"There is no reason any school should have to close when the state has $33 billion in the bank."
PfISD Superintendent Douglas Killian

Initially, PfISD officials were researching the potential impact of closing two to three elementary schools from among six campuses. That was later whittled down to just Dessau Elementary.

Killian said the district could be in the same position next year if Texas does not increase funding for public schools during the current legislative session.

“There is no reason any school should have to close when the state has $33 billion in the bank,” he said, referring to the state's surplus.

Killian also said it will be vital to increase enrollment and make sure kids show up to school regularly. Texas largely funds schools based on attendance, so when students miss class, districts lose money.

Pflugerville ISD started out the school year with a $3.2 million budget deficit. The deficit has grown to about $7 million since December because student enrollment and attendance is lower than what PfISD predicted. Jennifer Land, the district’s chief financial officer, said that will affect the 2023-2024 budgeting process.

“It means that when we look at where we’re starting [for next year's budget] we’re looking at a larger deficit than we originally anticipated,” she said.

PfISD’s payment into the state’s recapture system has also ballooned. The district expected it to be about $12 million but, again, because of lower enrollment and student attendance — as well as high property values — it will likely pay the state about $20 million.

Austin-area Democrats have filed several bills in the Texas House to increase how much the state spends on public education that would benefit PfISD. State Rep. Gina Hinojosa’s House Bill 31, which has bipartisan support, would fund schools based on enrollment rather than attendance. Rep. Donna Howard is backing a bill to adjust per student funding based on inflation. If passed, it would raise the basic allotment — which is the minimum amount Texas spends on each student — from $6,160 to $7,075. Rep. James Talarico is behind a bill to give teachers a $15,000 raise.

Parent reaction

After the superintendent revealed no schools would be closed for the next school year, parents could breathe a a momentary sigh of relief.

“I really do feel like this is a win for families,” said Frannie Sanchez, who attended Thursday's school board meeting. “I feel like I can sleep again tonight.”

Sanchez is a parent at River Oaks Elementary, which had been on the chopping block at one point. She said she wants to see the district work hand in hand with families to prevent future closures.

“Our ultimate goal is to actually form a committee that is full of stakeholders, full of the families, full of the parents, full of the teachers, full of the staff, that these kinds of cuts directly affect,” she said.

Tianna Jackson, who has a fifth-grader at Dessau Elementary, said many families at her school didn't know PfISD was considering closing it. She wants the district and families to have a better working relationship after this months-long experience.

“We’re all intertwined," she said. "And when we don’t make that connection, our students and our kids are the ones that ultimately suffer. And that’s not in the best interest of anybody."

Jackson, Sanchez and other parents at the school board meeting said they plan to reach out to state lawmakers and advocate for public education funding.

Teacher reaction

Pflugerville ISD teachers like Karina Rodriguez praised the district for holding off on closing schools. She called Dessau's potential closure "a disservice to that community and that neighborhood, and those students and teachers.”

But, she said, PfISD remains in a tough spot financially and she hopes parents and teachers put pressure on the state Legislature to spend more on public education.

“Every state legislator, every state senator needs to hear from teachers,” she said. “I know we’re all tired, I can understand how we don’t have time but it is very simple, very quick to find that phone number, find that email, speak your voice, speak your truth because a lot of people do not know the struggles that Texas educators are facing right now.”

High school teacher August Plock said while it's best for families and kids to stay in community schools, he’s concerned the district is going to save money by giving teachers more work.

"Are teachers going to be asked to pick up an additional class time?" he said. "Are teachers going to be asked to teach classes [with 35 or 40 students] so that we can cut staffing?"

Another concern is whether PfISD will have enough money to increase salaries in its next budget. Superintendent Killian has said a 1% raise equates to a couple million dollars. Plock said if the district cannot offer competitive salaries, he is concerned teachers will leave for higher-paying jobs in other school systems.

“Seventy percent of the teachers here in PfISD do not live in our community," he said. "They live in surrounding school districts and it may be tempting to say, ‘Hey, I want to work closer to home and leave PfISD.’”

Neighboring Austin ISD, for example, is aiming to give teachers a 5% raise next year.

High school boundary changes

While the school board didn't vote on whether to close Dessau, district officials did ask members to vote on a plan to address overcrowding at Weiss High School. Trustees unanimously voted to approve new boundaries that will rezone 404 students from Weiss to Connally High School and another 157 students to Pflugerville High.

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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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