After hearing tearful pleas from parents and an 11-year-old student in opposition to the proposed Scenario F for middle school attendance zoning, Leander ISD trustees voted unanimously to adopt that scenario at its June 6 meeting.
“I think we have come to an imperfect but strong solution,” Board President Aaron Johnson said.
Scenario F was the result of a cumulative process, where trustees reviewed a scenario as presented, then requested district staff to modify some portion of the plan, either from community feedback, concerns about overcrowding or other issues. Starting with Scenario A, the board looked at a total of six possible rezoning plans, ultimately adopting Scenario F.
Trustees told parents that the decision was among the toughest that they’ll make as school board members. The decision will take effect in the 2020-21 school year, concurrent with the opening of Danielson Middle School.
“I want to thank our community for its continued engagement throughout this conversation,” Johnson said. “Attendance rezoning is never easy, but the deliberate, inclusive way LISD moved through the process with the community helped secure the best outcome for the largest number of families.”
During a community comment period, 11-year-old Paige Loranc — who was previously rezoned from Pleasant Hill Elementary to Akin Elementary between her third and fourth grade years — talked about the difficulty changing schools creates for students, especially when they know they may be rezoned yet again in the future.
Trustee Trish Bode asked whether the district has a formal transition assistance program in place designed to assist students who will be transferring to a new school different than their peers.
LISD Chief of Staff Matt Smith responded that there is no formal transition program in place, though the district does work with principals and counselors to help ease the way for transferring student. At Bode’s suggestion, Smith said the district could begin looking at the possibility of a formal program based on best practices in place at other fast-growing districts such as Frisco ISD.
Paige and a number of parents from the Hazelwood area who were in attendance at the meeting said they felt the distance their children will be bused to already overcrowded schools is unnecessary.
“I was told when I was elected (rezoning) will be the worst thing you’re going to have to do, and just make sure you realize we’re trying to open a new school every year,” said Trustee Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia. “That means you’ll be making people upset every year.”
Many of the complaints about the various scenarios that could have been adopted had to do with overcrowding at certain schools. Under the adopted Scenario F, Cedar Park Middle School and Stiles Middle School are expected to be over capacity for several years, with Stiles exceeding 120% of capacity during the 2023-24 school year.
“No one wants to be in an overcrowded school, no one wants to be in portables, but no one wants to change schools,” Gonzales-Dholakia said.
Trustee Elexis Grimes also talked about the difficulty of the decision, saying, “We know we’re dealign with your babies… it’s hard, and difficult, and we have to look at the big picture. And we can't always just make exceptions for one neighborhood. As much as we would love to do that, we have to look at the entire picture.”
Following the community comment period, board members and Superintendent Dan Troxell spoke about the multitude of factors that were involved in the decision. Trustees also discussed the effect of a seventh high school — which current projections suggest would need to be opened for the 2024-25 school year — on students who are now in elementary in middle school, but will be looking at possible rezoning again in the future for a new high school.
Five of the district’s six high schools are expected to be over capacity by the 2022-23 school year.
The board approved transfer exceptions for affected students, so that incoming incoming eighth graders and their siblings can apply for a transfer and remain at their current zoned campus. Students with an older sibling attending a high school different than their attendance zone can also apply for a transfer to keep siblings at the same high school. District transportation would not be provided for students approved for a voluntary transfer.
In the end, board members said they felt that after months of deliberation, a decision needed to be made.
“There’s nothing to say we can’t tweak it later on,” said Trustee Pam Waggoner.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with a correction. LISD Chief of Staff Matt Smith addressed the board during the attendance zoning portion of the meeting. The original story incorrectly attributed Smith's comments to LISD Communications Manager Matt Mitchell.