Editor's note: The Tomball ISD school board will have a special meeting May 2 to discuss this plan.

During an April 17 town hall at Creekside Park Junior High, over a hundred Creekside-area families and community members expressed their opposition to Tomball ISD’s plan to amend its bond projects to replace a proposed elementary school with a new intermediate school.

The town hall, which lasted around an hour and a half, saw district leaders present the plan and answer questions from attendees alongside board President Lee McLeod, Secretary Justin Unser and Trustee Matt Schiel.

During his remarks, Unser, who said he lives in the Creekside area, said he opposes this change, to which the audience applauded.

“All the concerns that you’ve brought up tonight are ones I have brought up as well,” Unser said. “I have very similar feelings.”

Unser said while he loves the idea of a new intermediate campus, he does not know if this plan fits with what the community was designed for.

“This was designed to be community schools; people can walk and bike, and that’s how people bought their home, including myself,” Unser said. “So those are the things that I don’t like about it.”

How we got here

During a special meeting April 10, Chief Operating Officer Steven Gutierrez presented the school board with a plan to amend its initial bond projects slate, replacing a proposed elementary school—Elementary School No. 13—with Intermediate School No. 5 to address capacity issues within the Creekside area, Community Impact previously reported.

The new intermediate school would serve fifth to sixth grades and provide capacity relief to the elementary schools in the Creekside area. Previous reporting indicates the school is planned for the undeveloped land at the Tomball Innovation Center, located at the corner of FM 2920 and Hufsmith-Kohrville Road.

The bond language does not prevent the district from making this change, Chief Financial Officer Jim Ross said at the April 10 special meeting, according to previous reporting.

According to previous reporting, ballot language for Proposition A, which voters approved in the the 2021 bond package, stated:

  • “The issuance of $466.64 million school building bonds for the construction, acquisition, rehabilitation, renovation, expansion, improvement and equipment of school buildings in the district; the purchase of the necessary sites for school buildings; the purchase of new school buses and the retrofitting of school buses with emergency, safety and security equipment.”
In an interview after the town hall concluded, Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora acknowledged emotions among community members are high.

“These are their children,” Salazar-Zamora said. “This is a concept that the Creeks [community] has not had in the past, but this not unfamiliar to Tomball parents and the Tomball community. For years upon years, [the district has] had elementary K-4, intermediate 5-6, junior high 7-8 and then high school. But I understand that change is hard and this does add an additional layer of complexity because of the distance of the school.”

This bond project change would see fifth-grade students at Creekside-area elementary schools and sixth-grade students at Creekside Park Junior High attend the new intermediate school in the 2025-26 school year, according to the district. Unlike other elementary schools in the district that serve grades K-4, Creekside Forest, Timber Creek and Creekview elementary schools serve grades K-5 and feed into Creekside Park Junior High for sixth grade.

What Tomball ISD is saying

Salazar-Zamora spoke on the difficulty of this change during the town hall.

“Change is difficult, and any change to our families, to our children, to our community is difficult,” Salazar-Zamora said. “I want you to understand that. The growing pains of a fast-growth district are very challenging and difficult to manage.”

Presentations by Gutierrerz and Chief Academic Officer Michael Webb followed, who spoke on the need for a new intermediate school and the academic implications, respectively.

“The primary point of bond 2021 is to provide enrollment relief out here in these [Creekside-area] campuses,” Gutierrez said. “So the plans that we presented, that we modeled, did not adequately provide the relief out here. So from our perspective, we’d be doing you a disservice to build a new [elementary] building that would be underutilized and not provide you the relief that we promised.”

Some of the questions by attendees included how to challenge the decision, why the new campus is located where it is and how the district is able to change the projects called for in the bond.

“It didn’t say elementary school; yes, it was marketed that way,” McLeod told attendees when people expressed confusion about how this change could happen. “It’s on the website. We’re not hiding anything. No one’s hiding anything.”

How long students would ride buses and how safe those bus rides would be was another concern attendees brought up during the town hall.

“There will be information that comes that has to do with transportation and its improvements,” McLeod said during the town hall. “I can assure you. That’s all in play, and it will come.”

McLeod also said the district has looked for land in the Creekside area for a new intermediate school for years.

“It’s just not been available,” McLeod said. “That’s the honest truth.”

Community concerns

In an interview after the town hall, Unser said he was not sure what to expect at the meeting.

“I was worried that being the lone voice that was sort of dissenting, maybe I was wrong,” Unser said. “Tonight was proof that maybe I’m right to be questioning those things. So it gave me the confidence to continue on in asking the questions that people want to know the answers to.”

Ann Synder, the chair of the board of directors for The Woodlands Township, said during the town hall that she believes attendees feel misled with this change.

Kira Becker, who has children enrolled at Creekside Forest Elementary and Creekside Park Junior High, said in an interview following the town hall she is concerned about the commute for students.

“It’ll be 20 minutes or more on a road that’s not prepared for the influx of traffic,” Becker said. “That’s pretty dangerous.”

Becker also said she would like to see the district work better with the community.

“I really think the school district could have done a better job on bringing such a difficult change to the community,” Becker said.

In an interview following the town hall, Creekside parent Beth Isernhagen said transportation is also one of her concerns.

“I think the district is doing the best they can to be fiscally sound and to relieve overcrowding,” Isernhagen said. “But I don’t think they understand how passionately the Creekside parents want to stay in the area.”

McLeod said in an interview he went into the event wanting to listen to the community.

“I knew coming into the meeting the issue is transportation between here and there and the challenges that are presented because [of that] ... security or safety of kids and the time of travel,” McLeod said. “Those are just hard issues.”

However, McLeod said he did not anticipate how contentious the town hall would be.

“I wanted this to go well,” McLeod said. “Despite the rancor, I really think it was an important meeting to have. ... I’m glad we had the meeting, and we’ll see what comes next month when this becomes part of the conversation again.”

Next steps

Unser said he will request to add this change to the next school board agenda; adding items to the board’s agenda takes two board members. During his remarks at the town hall, Schiel said he would join Unser in asking for this item to be on the next agenda.

“My expectation is that this will be on the agenda for [our] May meeting and that there will be some discussion about it,” Unser said. “I don’t know if there’s any need for a vote or anything yet, but that’s where we are at this point.”

The school board’s May meetings will take place May 8-9 at 5:30 p.m. at the Tomball ISD Administration Building at 310 S. Cherry St., Tomball.