By RICH KEITH, Four Points News
A committee acting for Leander ISD has proposed a change to the elementary school attendance boundaries which could affect up to 436 current Four Points students if approved by the school board in December.
The committee, made up of 25 residents selected through a blind process from over 200 who applied, has been crafting the district’s options over the last several months.
District-wide, 2,326 students are affected under the committee’s proposal. The district is dealing with extreme asymmetric growth, with the far north and northeast greatly outpacing the south including Four Points. This reality forces the district to push attendance zones ever-southward because there is a lag in how many elementary schools exist or are planned to be built in the far north.
In Four Points – coincidentally – the exact same scenario is playing out. The northern area of the Steiner Ranch peninsula is expected to add considerably more students. This makes the district examine how best to accommodate it using the three schools available.
Thus all the students affected attend elementary schools in Steiner Ranch. The committee recommended the following changes in Steiner Ranch which will affect 436 students:
Summer Vista students who attend Laura W. Bush Elementary today will move to River Ridge Elementary.
Hancock Hill students who attend Bush today will move to Steiner Ranch Elementary.
Students living in the University of Texas Golf Club and who attend River Ridge Elementary today will move to Bush.
Students in the Savannah neighborhood are not affected.
LISD rezoning meetings
At two recent LISD public meetings, Steiner Ranch parents showed up in force. They spoke during the comment period and many were opposed to changing the current attendance boundaries.
“Rezoning is always an emotional time for families and this rezoning is proving no different,” said LISD President Pam Waggoner. “What is unique about Steiner Ranch rezoning is we have three superior elementary schools in one community. So even if your child is rezoned, they will not be asked to leave their neighborhood and they will be with many of their neighbors and friends. It is really the best situation we could ask for,” Waggoner said.
The school committee operated from an 8-point charter. Two of the higher priority goals include an eye toward maintaining student safety, and to “keep walkers walking.”
Other goals are to minimize the number of impacted students and to affect the smallest number of schools district-wide. And to minimize the purchase and transfer the fewest number of portables, which cost up to $25,000 per move.
Within Steiner Ranch, the committee’s recommendation is influenced by the recent LISD demographer’s report, which tracks several new and future housing developments. The Steiner Ranch peninsula will soon be home to several new apartment, townhome and single-family developments.
The committee seeks to balance school populations today while planning for future population “blooms” as these new developments take shape.
According to the demographer’s report, SRE will host students from 879 new housing units over the next 10 years. Bush’s attendance zone is nearly built out and only 21 new households are expected. RRE expects 292 new housing units during the next decade.
The demographer’s report does not specify exactly how many elementary school students will appear from these household numbers, nor does it explain how the new school attendance is calculated in every case. Brian Thompto of the Steiner Ranch Neighborhood Association has derived an estimate from the numbers which he shared with Four Points News.
“Based on the high rate of elementary attendance within Steiner Ranch, assuming 50 percent of projected new students will attend K-5, then Steiner Ranch Elementary will gain 142 students, Bush will gain four students and River Ridge will gain 114 students,” Thompto said.
Student safety concerns
Most of the Four Points parents who spoke at the public meetings focused on the issues of safety for walkers and distance from their neighborhood to the three elementary schools which serve Steiner Ranch.
Some parents from UTGC pointed out that since they have to be bused in any case, then why not stay at RRE and not add to the traffic congestion near SRE.
Parents from Summer Vista said that students walk to Bush using existing trails and easements, thus avoiding Quinlan Park Road entirely. This serves walkers better than the committee’s recommendation, they said, because the distance is greater and students will be required to walk down Quinlan Park Road and to cross it.
Indeed safety was on the parents’ minds because of a low-speed bicycle and car collision on Mon. Oct. 28. Jim Rose, principal at RRE said it took place at the corner of Quinlan Park Road and Bella Mar Trail.
“All were released without injury or damage,” Rose said in a letter to parents. “We are currently reviewing the Quinlan / Bella Mar crossing, but we want to remind all of our walkers and bike riders that crossing guards are located in Bella Mar and on Quinlan Trail to assist with getting to campus safely,” Rose said.
Hancock Hill parents pointed out they have only 40 elementary students and they prefer their smaller numbers to stay where they are as their moving would have a lesser perceived effect.
The current proposal was one of several generated by the committee. “Unfortunately, this proposal moves the most students (436) under any proposal,” Thompto said.
“Children will look to their parents on how to handle the rezoning,” LISD’s Waggoner said. “It can be a positive situation or a negative. I am confident parents will support the decision of the Board once it comes to a vote and the vote will be based on what allows that child to receive the best education possible and be successful,” Waggoner said.
According to the district, the committee will first take a vote on their top two scenarios. Then LISD administration will review it, potentially modifying it and will present their recommendation to the board at their first meeting in December.
Ultimately the board will review the last recommendation and either modify it further, or accept it or they could come up with their own attendance zone boundaries.