By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Long, hot bus rides in Leander ISD — especially in the Four Points area — have been the focus of many parents, school administrators and staff. Triple digit temperatures last week coupled with the fact LISD buses do not have air conditioning, and that students sit in hot buses longer — more than an hour in cases — because the traffic has been extremely congested leaving Vandegrift and Four Points Middle School from the one exit.
“Traffic has increased in our neighborhood. They (the buses) are not moving as fast and as far as they used to. Students are having longer times on the commute,” said Trish Bode, LISD Place 1 school board member and a Steiner Ranch resident whose children both bus and drive to school.
LISD parents have been taking action. Many have emailed and called the schools and administration. Local parent Nicole Tran handed out hundreds of bottles of water on Wednesday to help the situation, she also made formal comments to the school board at Thursday’s meeting.
LISD administration, staff and school board members say they are working on solutions, and already some things have improved.
|“The admin teams from VHS and FPMS have been manually directing traffic flow and coordinating bus routes since Monday to prioritize getting the buses out as quickly as possible,” said Charlie Little, Vandegrift principal.
By Wednesday last week, all VHS and FPMS buses were cleared by 4:23 p.m., “which is about as quickly as possible given the constraints with one exit out at 2222,” Little said.
“We have a few more traffic flow modifications we want to try (this) week, too,” Little added.
On Wednesday Tran, who is a Steiner working mother-of-three, went to Vandegrift to see firsthand the situation she was hearing about from her son. She was equipped with 300 waters and passed them all out, and “(the students) were very gracious to accept them,” she said.
She saw Superintendent Dan Troxell on the buses and saw that LISD staff appeared to be getting the buses out quicker.
Tran also emailed the school board, Vandegrift and the Texas Department of Transportation last week. At Thursday’s school board meeting, she was one of six attendees who spoke to the board about no air conditioning on the buses.
“I’m concerned about the kids being dehydrated. It’s hot out there as they’re waiting for the bus,” Tran said. “I just want to make sure that we move forward getting those buses out and not having those kids sitting out there.”
Secondly, Tran highlighted the heat situation.
“Is there a protocol that the school has for how hot the buses would be out there because we’re talking Texas heat right now, and we’re starting school early,” she said.
The third concern Tran pointed out is the number of cars parking along that access road leaving Vandegrift, which is affecting the smooth flow of traffic.
“Those cars are limiting cars going out and limiting the bus going out,” she said. She thinks the exit is poorly designed.
The district has been working on more than one exit at VHS. A second access road has been in the works since 2012. LISD is focusing on a stretch that would connect Vandegrift to River Place Boulevard.
|“We’ve been trying for a long time to get that second access road in and have been met with so many obstacles,” said board member Bode. “But I’m hopeful with Fish and Wildlife and all the other players can help us get that road up.”
Corey Ryan, LISD spokesperson, said there is progress on the second access road. LISD submitted its Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and our Environmental Assessment (EA) to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
“We expect the final review in December. The next step will be a 30-day public comment on those documents, which they will post on the national federal register. If USFWS grants our permit, we will work with Travis County and the city of Austin on additional permitting,” Ryan said. The 2017 bond included money to start the design and planning for the project.
The district is working on other solutions to fix the congestion at the Vandegrift and Four Points Middle School campuses.
Some local parents have suggested altering the school bell schedules between VHS and FPMS because they begin and dismiss so closely to each other, within some 15 minutes of each other.
“Changing bell schedules for one set of campuses after the start of the school year presents various challenges, including before-school activities, after-school activities and bus schedules,” Ryan said.
LISD plans to study bell schedules with the Districtwide Educational Improvement Committee (DWEIC) this year to consider adjustments for 2019-2020.
Others have suggested working with the traffic lights to allow for better traffic flow. LISD spoke with a person from the city of Austin regarding the traffic lights on Thursday. LISD was told that they adjusted the traffic lights at RM 2222 and il Drive about two years ago to support school traffic but the city official will look at it again.
“He will meet with our safety director (this) week to see if they can make any more adjustments,” Ryan said. He shared that the issue is not just the light at RM 2222 and McNeil Drive, but also the 2222 and River Place Boulevard intersection.
Bode confirmed that LISD is looking at options and discussed preliminary ideas at Thursday’s LISD board meeting. If a decision is made to make changes to the buses, it will take time to work on the entire fleet of 180, she said. The board is expected to hear back on some ideas at the next board meeting on Sept. 6. In the meantime, the board is looking at what else can be done.
LISD school board member Jim McKay echoed those thoughts. He posted on Aug. 22 that the board is “working as diligently as we can to find the right solution and look to implement that solution as quickly as possible.”
“(The administration) has been working proactively to ensure the safety of our students,” McKay said. “They are presenting us (the board) with available options and I can assure you that the board will move swiftly to remedy this.”
Kayla Bouchard, Hill Country News, contributed to this piece.