Leander ISD had an enrollment of 26,000 students in 2007. Today, there’s almost 40,000 students enrolled, an average of more than 1,000 more people enrolling per year. With such rapid growth, there’s a need for several district-wide improvements, hires and the construction of four more schools — three elementary and one middle school — in four years, officials said.
To meet those needs, a recommended $453,860,841 bond package was proposed June 15 at an LISD board of trustees meeting. The funds are mostly allocated for growth, with major facility maintenance and safety improvements taking up the rest, throughout Leander ISD, according to Victor Villarreal, co-chairman of a bond advisory steering committee.
There are “optional items” that could add $9,856,468 to the proposed bond total.
Funds projected as necessary to meet LISD requisites amount to $172,536,655 for elementary schools, $117,525,385 for middle schools, $87,175,801 for high schools, $47,730,000 for technology and $28,893,000 for ancillary requests.
Some northwest Austin area schools specifically mentioned in the package are Cedar Park, Leander, Vista Ridge and Vandegrift high schools.
Several improvements to area high school athletic facilities are in the proposal, including a $1.1 million expansion of grandstands at Monroe Stadium, replacing grandstands at CPHS Stadium for $658,000 and increasing safety of dugouts and seating at Cedar Park and Leander high schools.
Due to its burgeoning drama programs, Leander High School a theater arts black box classroom addition for Leander High School is budgeted for $1.2 million.
Renovations are recommended for career and technical classrooms at CPHS, LHS, VRHS and VHS, and are estimated to cost $11.7 million.
Designs for a seventh high school due in 2024 are projected to cost about $10 million, and more than $20 million is required for purchasing land for an eighth high school in the region.
Cedar Park middle school, as well as Leander Middle School, are recommended for major maintenance to their HVAC systems, lighting, carpet and paint at a total estimated expense of $28,009,844. Both campuses are at the end of their service life and are due for facility and equipment refurbishing and replacement, said Shaun Cranston, co-chair of the appointed bond advisory steering committee.
There’s also a recommended $6.2 million for a new building to create a permanent solution for portables at Leander MS.
VHS is also recommended for $29,548,592 in additions and renovations to increase student capacity.
And, Vipers make the list under “optional” line items for construction of an agriculture barn, as does Glenn High School, and a career and technical education Incubator program classroom, as does Vista Ridge High School. Total estimated costs of these projects are $6,932,120 and $1,066,107, respectively.
If construction of barn facilities becomes part of an approved package, the VHS building would be built at Grandview Hills Elementary. Currently, VHS agriculture students use Cedar Park High School barn facilities.
As for CTE Incubator classrooms, this is a new program that will begin in August at VRHS and is slated to start-up at VHS in 2018.
Preparation for the bond election proposal has been in the works for some time with bond advisory committees having formed in January.
Two groups — a steering committee and five subcommittees with a combined workforce of 155 volunteers — prepared the proposal presented to a meeting of LISD Board of Trustees on June 15.
“Our goal was to put forth fair, meaningful and thoughtful recommendations. I think we did that,” Villarreal said.
The recommendation is not the final proposal. A telephone survey under the direction of Rice University professor Robert Stein was taken from a sample of 500 households throughout the district’s 200-square-mile service area.
The survey found a majority of residents had favorable views of the district’s educational services and facilities, with 77 percent saying the overall quality of LISD was good or excellent. While residents were generally in favor of the bond proposals — about 43 percent — more residents, 28 percent, were in opposition of the $480 million proposal versus 18 percent against the $453 million proposal.
There were common, negative narratives about taxation among those interviewed who were against the proposals, Stein said.
“I think some of the comments are reflective of what we believe of our community, and it is good to get that type of feedback just to make sure we’re not off base,” said Will Streit, Place 7 LISD board trustee. “Our goal isn’t to pass whatever we can, it is to get the information from the community and reflect back what they want.”
The board will take the committee information and the survey information and it will form a bond package if that is the direction the trustees want to go.
“We will add, subtract or accept each need presented,” said Pam Waggoner, LISD board president and trustee for Place 3.
“I want to hear what the community has to say. It is all of our tax money, so everyone has an equal say,” Waggoner said. “Infrastructure is always first on the list. You have to have a building, desks, chairs and technology.”
Based on the district’s published timeline, if the board calls for a referendum, it will do so as part of its consent agenda at its August 17 meeting.
“I do know to have a vibrant, prosperous and growing community, we need a strong school system to attract residents and the youth. I believe our communities have received the benefits of a strong school district,” Waggoner said.
Recommendations divide into elementary, middle school, high school, technology and ancillary services. Each one of the five areas had a subcommittee charged with researching its needs for the next four to five years, Villarreal said.
The single largest recommended expenditure is for design, construction and furnishings for three new elementary schools as well as just the design of a fourth one, all for $123,320,048.
The second largest recommended expenditure is $63,410,011 for the design, construction and furnishing of a new middle school.
Land purchases for a future high school, middle school and seven elementary schools are also in the proposal at a combined cost of $61,934,695.
Finally, there are recommendations for the construction of secure vestibules at all LISD high schools and middle schools for a total expense of $17,621,008.
Already, among LISD elementary schools, secure vestibules are either completed or are on schedule for completion. “Our number one objective is to make sure our schools are safe and secure where quality learning can occur,” said Ryan.
According to the report, the subcommittees’ initial recommendations had totaled $1,129,909,962. The steering committee reduced requests to $494,492,220, and the superintendent’s office lowered it further to $431,977,345. The final compromise presented to trustees was $453,860,841.
“It is quite common to start high and pare down,” said Villarreal, who has experience working with bond advisory committees. It was challenging for the steering committee to wade through the volume of suggestions. LISD is a large district and has a lot of constituencies. Committees were very holistic, and there was a strong diversity of thought.”