Steiner parents speak out about discontinued bus service

LISD reviewing routes

The intersection of Quinlan Park Road and Steiner Ranch Boulevard/ University Club Drive is an accident hot spot according to Texas Department of Transportation data.

By APRIL S. KELLEY, Hill Country News 

Several Steiner Ranch parents spoke out against the discontinuation of bus service for their students in the upcoming school year, as proposed in the Leander Independent School District’s 2020-2021 Hazardous Routes Plan, at a LISD Board of Trustees meeting on May 14.

“High speed. Poor visibility. Six lanes of crossing for the kids. You put it all together, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Brian Thompto said. The six lanes include turning lanes.

Thompto said his daughter’s bus service was discontinued for the upcoming school year as she transitions from River Ridge Elementary to Canyon Ridge Middle School, due to the proposed Hazardous Routes Plan. 

To get home, only 1.94 miles away from CRMS, his 11-year-old daughter would have to walk along a dangerous route with busy intersections and vehicles traveling at high speeds, Thompto said. He said he not only witnessed accidents at Steiner Ranch’s most dangerous intersection, at Steiner Ranch Boulevard and N. Quinlan Park Road at University Club Drive, but he also looked at the Texas Department of Transportation’s ”Heat Map” of the intersection. 

Brian and Elena Thompto and their children: Alexander, Vandegrift 11th grader, and Eliana, VHS 9th grade, Maia, Canyon Ridge MIddle 7th grader, and Ashley, River Ridge Elementary 5th grader.

“A lot of them [accidents] involve going off the road along this stretch our kids are going to be walking,” Thompto said. “In fact, over 60% of the accidents already this year, of which there’s almost 30, are going off the road and that means they’re hitting something. People have been hit at that intersection.” 

High speed is one of the reasons for the accidents. The posted speed is 45 MPH but actual speeds ranges between 47 – 58 MPH, greater than the 50 MPH, said Thompto, who compiled data with his wife Elena to present before the school board. 

“The scoring method used pretty much says: ‘if the speed limit is over 50 you are hazardous’, otherwise you are not,” Thompto said. 

He filled out the scoring matrix for the Hazardous Routes Plan, and though he was racking up points, his daughter still did not qualify for bus service. 

“I’m not sure that formula works too well,” Thompto said. “I really do feel that our area should be bussed for those safety reasons.”

With the hazardous route scoring matrix that was unanimously approved by Trustees in October 2019, an estimated 769 students would lose bus service, and 356 students would gain bus service for the 2020-21 school year. 

NETZones (Not Eligible for Transportation Zones) have been reassessed under the scoring matrix to include students residing within a two-mile radius from a school area, unless their route is deemed hazardous. The new plan will not impact transportation services for special needs students. 

Another parent, Julia Spence, said she also used the scoring matrix and calculated enough points for the route to be considered hazardous.  

Jacob Leffler, a parent representing multiple families in the Mesa North subdivision of Steiner Ranch, said they found a discrepancy in the documents for the bus routes. The document says bus service would be discontinued for Mason North, but the subdivision is not highlighted on the map. 

Jacob Leffler, a parent representing multiple families in the Mason North subdivision of Steiner Ranch, said they found a discrepancy in the documents for the bus routes. The document says bus service would be discontinued for Mason North, but the subdivision is not highlighted on the map.

“Part of the reason for that is it is over two miles from Mason North to Canyon Ridge Middle School,” Leffler said. 

Leffler said bus service should be continued for Mason North “as well as the other Steiner Ranch neighborhoods that are over two miles that have for some reason been excluded in this process and recommended for discontinuation.” 

Diana Torres said she and other parents would have to drive their kids to and from school because of the dangerous route, causing more traffic. 

Sofia Bogran said student mental health is also an issue to take into consideration, as her child suffers from separation anxiety and would be nervous to walk home.

Trustees agreed to remove the Hazardous Route Plan from the agenda, as requested by Leander ISD Assistant Superintendent John Graham, who said he had reviewed two routes that were scheduled to lose bus service that should not have been. Trustees anticipate to bring it back up for discussion in June. 

“I believe it is important we review all routes recommended to lose bus service, and we take time to evaluate the distance between each residence and the campus,” Graham said.

“As we review these routes, we may continue bus service for kids who might not have it right now, but we will not withdraw bus service from any student in this process,” Leander ISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing added. 

The Hazardous Routes Plan was worked on for more than a year by a citizen-led committee that reassesses hazardous conditions and bus routes within the school district.