Gearing shares at forum LISD is pivoting on repurposing   

By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

Leander ISD hosted a community forum on April 12 at Vandegrift High School and shared that it has changed its stance on repurposing in Steiner Ranch.

“We are Ok with repurposing a portion of a school (rather than close it),” said Superintendent Bruce Gearing. “We’re pivoting. We think we can do this differently. Honestly you have my word, I really mean that.”

It was first shared at the end of last week’s April 4 LISD Special Board Meeting and reiterated on April 12.

“We’ve heard very loud and clear that the community likes neighborhood schools. There is support for community schools,” Gearing said.

Several community members asked questions or made comments at the forum.

Steiner resident Craig Smyser pointed out that $161 million in the bond – Proposition A in the May 6 bond election includes a combined $161 million for repurposing projects – is an enormous sum. He said it’s not clear how it is going to be used exactly.

“The community elects seven board members to make those decisions,” Gearing said. “We don’t have to spend that money, we don’t have to spend it that way (to repurpose). Ultimately the board has to vote on how to use those funds.”

If it’s not used for repurposing, the funds can be saved and used for building another elementary in the north if the board votes to do that.

The district has the challenge of rapid growth in the north and needing more facilities there while data shows declining student population in the south.

Brian Thompto, another Steiner resident, tried to get clarity from Gearing that the $161 won’t be used to close southern schools in the district. 

Gearing said it would not but he is not ruling out that it could be part of future conversations depending on the relevant factors.

“Should those (May 6 bond) propositions get approved, that allows us to repurpose a part of all three facilities (in Steiner) as opposed to closing one,” Gearing said. “If regrowth happens, it creates a flexibility to go back.” 

At the forum, someone asked how the data is collected and how new families are tracked.

Gearing explained that Population and Survey Analysts or PASA gathers data from single family and multi family households, existing and new construction. They also gather birth rates, kindergarten enrollment data and so on. They are analyzing all of the data and once they have a clear understanding, then they apply the ratios they have.

One uniqueness to the southern part of the district is regeneration is not happening like it typically does, Gearing shared. This is partly due to the fact that homes are more expensive and younger families cannot afford them or empty-nesters are not leaving the communities in the south.

One group – Save Our Schools Four Points – left the forum hoping for more.  

“We appreciate that Dr. Gearing and several Board members traveled to Vandegrift to engage with the Four Points community, but we unfortunately walked away with the same concerns that we brought to the meeting,” said Heather Tankersley, founder of Save Our Schools. She is also a real estate professional and mother of two children attending a Steiner elementary. 

“Without a binding charter surrounding a process for engagement and decision points, the Board can return to its original repurposing plan at any point,” Tankersley said. “We couldn’t be happier to hear them say that their plan is no longer to close one of our community’s elementary schools, but we want to see that plan backed by policy.” 

Photos by Lynette Haaland