By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Leander ISD is expected to take its final vote on elementary school attendance rezoning tomorrow night but one Steiner Ranch neighborhood does not want the latest recommendation to go through.
The final rezoning vote by the LISD Board is scheduled for Dec. 19 at Reed Elementary.
Many families who live in the Savannah neighborhood strongly disagree with the latest recommendation up for vote which would move 173 students who live in Savannah from River Ridge Elementary to Laura W. Bush Elementary.
“As a parent I’m frustrated and as a community I’m frustrated,” said Samuel Monti, a concerned parent and CFO of a local software company. He is one of the leaders of the group of nearly 100 supporters who do not want to see these latest rezoning recommendations made.
“Rezoning is a very emotional process. It involves emotional attachment to schools, which is a great thing and says they’re (parents are) invested. It’s not done lightly,” said LISD spokeswoman Veronica Sopher.
On Nov. 11, the LISD Attendance Zone Advisory Committee made its final recommendations affecting two schools in Four Points, Steiner Ranch specifically, and a projected 400 students.
Those committee recommendations were presented to the Board at the Dec. 5 which would move a projected 263 students who live in the neighborhoods around the University of Texas Golf Club from River Ridge to Bush, and move a projected 134 students who live in Summer Vista from Bush to River Ridge.
But during the Dec. 5 meeting, the LISD administration made a very different recommendation, which is an alternative to the committee’s recommendations. It would shift 173 students who live in Savannah from River Ridge to Bush. The board will take into account both recommendations for their scheduled vote on Thursday.
The organized group representing parents mostly from the Savannah neighborhood hope that no action is taken on Thursday. They sent an email to the LISD board members yesterday stating:
“Our request is for the board to remove 2775 (Savannah) from the administration recommendation and no action be taken at this time to re-zone any students in the Steiner Ranch Community. Additionally, we have spoken to legal counsel but do not want to use this option unless absolutely necessary.”
“From an LISD administration perspective, it is unlikely that no action will be taken based on the fact that River Ridge Elementary has 962 students and the building is designed for 800,” Sopher said. “Our recommendation is a scenario that relieves River Ridge.”
The Savannah group cited data to support their request for no action including these points:
No compelling reason to move any students in Steiner Ranch at this time; all schools have capacity for current and projected enrollment with minimal student enrollment changes over a minimum of the next few years.
Current capacity at River Ridge is sustainable for current and projected enrollment for the next three calendar school years at a minimum.
Development at the front and back of Steiner Ranch is unpredictable; all future development is being contested at both the front and back of Steiner Ranch. Multi-family units are being contested in the front and single-family homes in the back due to safety concerns over fire evacuation issues and environmental impact concerns.
Provides the opportunity to re-evaluate which portions of the community will see sustained growth and which ones will not, and address when the need is there.
The email letter states: “We appreciate the Board and Administration’s time to review and make the necessary changes to the recommendation so we can come back together as a community and thoughtfully discuss the appropriate changes that will provide the longest term sustainability for growth and student well-being.”
First letter to the LISD Board
The group’s first email was sent to the LISD Board on Thursday stating their strong disagreement with the administration’s recommendation. In the letter, they questioned the LISD administration’s recommendation coming in shortly before the Dec. 5 meeting or as Monti said, “in the 11th hour.”
Sopher does not think the zoning charter was violated and confirmed that the LISD administration’s recommendation was finalized shortly before the meeting on Dec. 5. She explained that it is not abnormal in the rezoning process.
“Constituents reach out to board members, offer suggestions, maps and alternatives to board members and they get additional information forwarded to the board. The board has to see if it is a viable option or not,” Sopher said.
LISD administration’s recommendation
In the case of Savannah in Steiner Ranch, LISD board members got feedback that made them challenge the Attendance Zone Advisory Committee’s recommendations.
“It had to do with the number of walkers. Some suggested we didn’t do due diligence on who was going where and how,” Sopher said. LISD officials went to the schools to observe. “We looked at the patterns of walkers and bike riders and it was different information than what the committee was working under and that did change our recommendations,” she said.
“The number of walkers came in significantly different than the number being used during the committee process. There were many more walkers,” Sopher said.
She added that the entire rezoning process is designed for community input. Feedback is constantly being utilized. LISD administration modified recommendations again Thursday for other neighborhoods in other parts of the district after reviewing input received from the community.
“Until the final vote is taken, it is always a living recommendation and involves feedback from the community,” Sopher said.
Zoning Charter tenants challenged
The Savannah group believes that the original Advisory Committee recommendation meets all four zoning charter tenants but not the administration’s recommendation. In that first email sent Thursday, the Savannah group challenged this.
“Where I have a real problem as a parent is that the administration’s proposal violates every bit of the charter,” Monti said.
As reiterated in Monti’s email, the board charter made it clear a rezoning committee was to be established by dedicated volunteers to recommend proposals that best benefited the communities at question, utilizing the following four zoning tenants: Safety and Efficiency, Balance of Socio-Economic Factor, Balance Enrollment and Avoid Secondary Rezoning.
Safety and Efficiency
With safety and efficiency, the LISD administration recommendation was based on the discovery of a walking trail, but Monti pointed out that it was not mentioned that the path is unlit and has the children crossing an intersection at two locations with no crossing guards.
Sopher said the administration felt it met the charter tenants with the community scenarios as it pertains to the entire district, and that it minimized change as much as possible.
On the balance of socio-economic factor, Savannah group contends the proposal will result in a significant majority of gated communities going to River Ridge while a majority of children requiring lunch assistance attend Steiner Ranch Elementary.
“If the opportunity exists to (create more socio-economic balance) and doesn’t create more difficulties in terms of transportation and access and walking, it’s something that should be considered,” Sopher said. “It is good to create opportunity for balance and diversity when it doesn’t create an upset to the system.”
The Savannah group states per the demographer’s report, the Board proposal places Bush at no lower than 107 percent over the next ten years, SRE at no more than 85 percent over the next ten years, and RRE will not have enough capacity for current construction.
“My concern breaking the balance enrollment and adding additional trailers, and what is going to happen to education quality,” Monti said.
LISD campuses in high density areas have had to work with capacity parameters for a while now, Sopher said, “yet all campuses have exceptional scores. Capacity has not impacted negatively the quality of education they (the students) are receiving. Our students in that area are always high performing,” she added.
Sopher said LISD is aware of capacity pressures. “We will monitor it and have a constant pulse on it.”
Avoid Secondary Rezoning
The Savannah group states that Steiner Ranch community will be rezoning in the near future as a result of Bush capacity issues and RRE will not be able to support the current construction in the back of Steiner Ranch.
Sopher said it is hard to predict when rezoning will have to be done again. It has been three years since the last rezoning process.
“Every year we get a new demographer’s report showing trends and tweaks. We won’t know what will need to be done until then. Rezoning is one of the challenges of fast growth districts,” she said. The last rezoning was done three years ago.
The Savannah group has other points too. They think that there will be fewer volunteers at RRE if these changes go through. Monti’s research with the PTA shows that 54 percent of the RRE volunteers are from Savannah compared to 3 percent from the golf club community.
The Savannah group will be present at the Dec. 19 meeting.