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Plano ISD is closing four schools next year — what's next

Parents react as the Plano ISD board votes to close four schools, including Davis Elementary, during a special session Monday, June 10, 2024, in Plano.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Plano ISD's school board voted unanimously at a recent meeting to close two elementary schools and two middle schools next school year despite families urging them against the closings.

Plano ISD’s decision to close four campuses was emotionally wrought — parents stormed out of the room crying clad in their child’s school t-shirt when the board voted unanimously to shut down Davis Elementary, Forman Elementary, Carpenter Middle School and Armstrong Middle School.

Even the school board president, Nancy Humphrey, shed a tear over what the district said was a difficult but necessary decision.

“I’m sorry,” Humphrey said as got choked up ahead of the board’s vote. “I’m human.”

So what happens next?

The district said it’s doing everything it can to make the transition smooth for students and faculty at the closing campuses. The schools will remain open for the upcoming school year. But students also have the option to transfer to their new campuses for the upcoming school year if they want a head start. The deadline to transfer is June 18.

Faculty at the schools will keep their jobs with Plano ISD — their transfer requests will be given top priority.

Deaf Education Program

Shawnda Krajca’s daughter is a deaf student at Davis Elementary, which hosts a regional day school program for the deaf and hard of hearing for 14 area school districts.

Kracja’s daughter relies on American Sign Language to communicate. She said she’s concerned about her daughter being isolated at the new school. She said Davis Elementary has an inclusive culture where their classmates see them as peers.

“Now, they’re going to be known as the deaf kids,” Krajca said.

The day program won’t be closed — it’ll move to Harrington Elementary, along with 75% of Davis’s students. The rest of the student body will move to Saigling Elementary.

Sarah Wainscott is an associate professor at Texas Women’s University and teaches deaf education. Wainscott said it will be an adjustment for teachers at Harrington who haven’t worked with deaf and hard of hearing children. She said deaf and hard of hearing students each have different needs and ways of communicating — some use a hearing aid, some have cochlear implants and others have an ASL interpreter.

“Having a teacher that knows those things intuitively based on experience is a game changer,” Wainscott said.

Dylan M. Rafaty is the president and CEO of the North Texas Disability Chamber. He’s also a graduate of Plano West Senior High School. Rafaty, who uses a hearing aid and is deaf in his right ear and partially deaf in his left ear, said Davis has a supportive environment for its deaf and hard of hearing students. But he said he’s confident the district will do its best to ensure the program’s transition goes well for the students and families.

Rafaty said he encourages students who are deaf and hard of hearing and their families to continue advocating for themselves in the new environment.

“Change is part of growth, and I've learned that at a young age, and I was able to persevere,” he said.

Aging Campuses

The process for the closings started in November 2023 when the trustees appointed the Long Range Facility Planning committee to look at available space at campuses, enrollment and the age and condition of the school. The committee shared its recommendations about which campuses to close at a board meeting in May.

All of the four schools were built sometime in the 1970s. It would cost $60 million each to rebuild the elementary schools and $110 million each for the middle schools according to district data. The schools also have low facility assessment scores.

The district also listed low enrollment as an issue at these campuses. But parents at Forman Elementary said that isn’t an issue at their campus.

“We have almost double the criteria for enrollment,” said Tisha Amos, the president of the parent teacher association at Forman.

Harper Weaver, a data engineer whose son attends Forman, said there are campuses further east that have lower enrollment than Forman and similar facility assessment scores. He said in his report that closing Boggess Elementary, Hunt Elementary or Miller Elementary would be less disruptive than closing Forman, which is more centrally located. Forman’s 500 students will be split amongst five neighboring schools, something Weaver said will create transportation issues and require more bus routes. Students at other schools will also be rezoned because of Forman closing.

Weaver shared his finding in a report with KERA inEnglish and Spanish. Forman is about 56.7% bilingual and 61% Hispanic according to the school’s 2022 Texas Education Agency Report Card. The district said it will add an English as a Second Language program to Dooley Elementary, one of the schools that will receive Forman students.

Weaver said adding an ESL program isn’t enough.

“Some of these students will be removed from places where they have a community to places where a community just doesn't exist, or at least or is included in the same way,” he said.

Growing Deficit

Plano ISD has had a budget deficit since 2017. Plano’s chief financial officer, Johnny Hill, said at the meeting that closing these campuses will save the district about $5.2 million annually. Other savings include a one-time $20.1 million capital expenditure reduction and avoiding the cost of rebuilding the four campuses, which would’ve cost at least $340 million.

Local property taxes create a lot of revenue. But Plano ISD doesn’t get to keep all of that money – the state sets a certain amount of money districts get per student known as the basic allotment. The extra property tax dollars Plano ISD collects get sent to the state, which redistributes the money to districts that don’t have as much property wealth.

The basic allotment, which is no more than $6,160, hasn’t gone up since 2019. Plano ISD’s superintendent Dr. Theresa Williams said the district needs more funds.

“The cost of doing business today can't adequately be done with 2019 budget dollars,” Williams said.

There was a bill in the Texas House during the last legislative session that would’ve raised the basic allotment. But it didn’t move forward after the House passed amendment to remove school voucher funding from the bill. Gov. Greg Abbott said he would veto any education funding legislation that doesn’t include money for vouchers.

Plano ISD isn’t alone in its struggles. School districts in Irving and Richardson also recently closed schools because of declining enrollment. Less kids in the classroom means less money from the state and more empty desks. Hill said that too many open seats at schools is inefficient — the schools can’t offer certain programs because there aren’t enough participants, and the district ends up paying for more facilities than it needs.

Plano ISD’s enrollment has gone down by 7,700 students the past 12 years. And Hill says it’s projected to keep declining by over 3,000 students the next five years. There are 18,000 open seats in Plano schools right now. Hill said if the district doesn’t do anything, that’ll go up to 21,500 open seats.

“That’s just not sustainable over time,” he said.

Got a tip? Email Caroline Love at clove@kera.org.

Caroline Love is a Report For Americacorps member for KERA News.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.