Demographer's report, parent feedback cause district officials to revisit growth strategy, attendance zones
Updated 11:44 a.m. CST Dec. 23, 2013
The Leander ISD school board approved new attendance boundaries for its elementary schools Dec. 19 that vary slightly from staff's recommendation presented Dec. 5.
Under the approved recommendation for the 2014–15 school year, students in neighborhood code 1710, which includes the Brushy Creek Apartments and Paradiso Villas, attend Rutledge Elementary School instead of Reagan Elementary School.
Elementary school students in neighborhood code 1820 including Breakaway Park remain and Reagan Elementary School. Students who live in the Arboleda Apartments and Quest Village remain at Cox Elementary School instead of going to Reed Elementary under the administration's original recommendation.
Staff indicated they are moving forward with plans to open Elementary School No. 25 using previously authorized bond money.
Leander ISD officials are considering building the district's 25th elementary school by 2015 because of swelling growth in the northern portion of the district.
In November, an LISD attendance zone committee drew new elementary school boundaries because of the district's need to open Reed Elementary School, located at 1515 Little Elm Trail, Cedar Park, in fall 2014.
The committee's recommendation proposed relocating more than 2,200 children from their current campuses to populate Reed Elementary, which was completed in 2011 but has been vacant for two years because of a lack of funding.
On Dec. 5, LISD staff presented the LISD school board with a different plan—to open Reed Elementary School in 2014, and Elementary School No. 25 in Leander by 2015, and reduce the number of relocated students by about 1,000.
Ellen Skoviera, LISD assistant superintendent for business and operations, said the district's demography report and parent feedback led staff to pursue alternatives to the committee's ecommendation.
"We felt that by moving some [construction] projects around and delaying some of them to the next [bond] sale that we would be able to deliver Elementary [School] No. 25 as early as 2015–16," Skoviera said. "That's consistent with what the demographer said, too. With this year's demography report—which actually came out after ... the committee was working—we are starting to see that elementary growth again more robustly, and [the demographer] felt we should move up construction."
Need for schools
In October, the demographer contracted by LISD said the district would need to build five elementary schools by 2022 to meet enrollment demands. Neighborhoods in the northern portion of the district showed some of the strongest growth projections. The number of elementary-age children is expected to increase by 136 percent in the Bluffs at Crystal Falls and 100 percent in Sarita Valley, both of which are located in Leander.
Parent Domi Schutz said she and other parents were glad LISD staff incorporated the demographer's report in its recommendation to the school board, which is set to decide on the matter Dec. 19.
"We are happy they are saying this is needed and they want to build, but we are going to keep talking about this until we see the construction on the lot," Schutz said. "The school was kind of needed yesterday, so they will need to follow through with the process of opening in 2015."
Funding and location
In September, the board authorized the sale of $206 million in bonds—approved by voters in 2007—including about $1.5 million for the design of Elementary School No. 25 and several other projects that LISD Director of Capital Improvements Jimmy Disler said can be postponed to fund construction of the new school.
Staff has not confirmed a specific location for Elementary School No. 25 but said they are considering the area near Leander Middle School.
"We are going to have to do some pretty substantial work on the roads and intersections to improve the traffic through there," Disler said. "We've talked to the design team as well as the contractor, so we are ready to go if [the board chooses] to go that direction."
The demographer's report also shows a projected need for the district to open a 26th elementary school in 2016. About $22 million remains unallocated from the $500 million LISD bond package approved by voters in 2007.
"An elementary might be able to be constructed within that dollar limit," said Veronica Sopher, LISD senior executive director of school and community relations. "However, site and infrastructure [expenses] are cost factors that go into the total development cost of an elementary."
When a campus is constructed, the district will likely form an attendance zone committee to populate the new school, she said.
Many parents at the Dec. 5 meeting cheered when the staff's recommendation revealed plans to keep more of their students in place and construct another school instead of following the committee's recommendation. The staff's recommendation shifts a projected 1,239 students—1,096 of those in the northeastern section of the district —from their current campuses, compared with more than 2,200 under the committee's recommendation.
School board President Pam Waggoner said the district has to consider many factors before finalizing new attendance boundaries.
"Safety is No. 1, but second is where are [students] going to be able to learn the best?" she said. "We know going into this that nobody wants to leave where they are right now. It's a great problem for a district to have, but it doesn't mean the emotions are any less serious."
When the board decides Dec. 19 how to move forward with growing elementary school enrollment, it must keep in mind the budget and student needs when opening new schools, Waggoner said.
"We can't stop building [schools]," she said. "We have to find alternative ways to finance, and I believe our community is coming in with some good suggestions. We are working with legislators to try to come up with good ideas as well."