During our Feb. 22 Leander ISD Board of Trustees meeting, the Board:
- Gave emergency authority to the Superintendent to repair buildings damaged by the recent winter storms.
- Considered zoning scenarios ahead of the opening of the next two elementary schools (vote comes on Thursday, Feb. 25).
- Approved a plan to expand virtual learning options for high school students.
- Discussed the launch of a long-range facility planning citizen’s committee and potential bond offering.
- Learned about a possible debt refunding to save $63 million in borrowing costs.
- Hosted a public hearing following a presentation on the Leander ISD annual Texas Academic Performance Report.
Note: The Board of Trustees will also meet on Feb. 25 for a regular meeting. Due to the recent snow and ice storms, we rescheduled this month’s first meeting, compounding two meetings into one week.
Board authorizes the superintendent to fix buildings damaged by winter weather
Superintendent Bruce Gearing, Ed.D., has the authority to find and pay contractors to fix facilities damaged by last week’s winter weather storms. The emergency declaration covered in local policy CH allows our facilities team to continue their work fixing school buildings to reopen schools.
The Board will discuss waivers to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to cover the missed instructional days in their meeting Thursday.
The district recommends attendance zoning scenarios for Tarvin ES, ES 29
Tarvin Elementary School is one step away from getting students for the 2021–22 school year.
After a four-month review and community engagement process, our staff presented a recommendation for elementary school attendance zoning scenario 28B and 29B.
During a presentation covering two scenarios for both schools, Chief Facilities Officer Jimmy Disler outlined the community feedback we received through surveys and virtual meetings.
Scenario 28B focuses on the zoning charter priorities to minimize change and keeps students zoned to a school in closer proximity to their neighborhood. It decreases enrollment at Parkside and Pleasant Hill elementary schools. Akin Elementary School does not see enrollment relief until the opening of Elementary School 30, expected in the 2023 or 2024 school year near the Ranch at Brushy Creek neighborhood.
If approved, Scenario 28B would become our elementary attendance zone in the 2021–22 school year as we open Tarvin Elementary School in Leander.
“We need to prioritize rezoning plans that minimize change for our families,” Trustee Jim MacKay said. “I’m glad to see how this recommendation addresses the concerns we’ve heard from two of our neighborhoods who have bared the brunt of our fast growth. Changing schools multiple times weighs heavy on a family and a student.”
Scenario 29B provides relief for Larkspur and Plain elementary schools with the opening of Elementary School 29 near the Bryson subdivision in Leander. The school would open in either 2022 or 2023.
We will also relieve crowding at schools by moving centralized special programs to underutilized schools. The Board could approve the zoning plan during their Feb. 25 meeting.
High school students may have choice for a permanent virtual school in 2021–22
We will move forward in exploring a permanent online school choice for high school students with the creation of a Virtual Learning Academy.
Current online offerings are limited to New Hope High School (grades 11–12, permanent) and Virtual Empower Learning (temporary during the pandemic). The proposal would merge New Hope into the Leander ISD Virtual Learning Academy, an online program in which all participants will transfer to, participate in, and graduate from the four-year high school.
If there’s enough interest, the Virtual Academy will open to 9th- and 10th-grade students starting in Fall 2021 with plans to add 11th-grade students for Fall 2022 and 12th-grade students for Fall 2023. We will cap enrollment at 300 students for the 2021–22 school year.
Next steps include gauging community interest and offering a parent information night.
Addressing growth, student choice with long-range facility planning
With uneven growth across the 200-square mile district and growing demand for choice in school programs, our Trustees and our staff are putting together a framework to develop a long-range facilities plan. A community-led Citizen’s Facilities Advisory Committee (CFAC) will begin meeting soon with the goal of developing a 3–5 year plan to meet the needs of the district and from that plan bring forth recommendations to the Board.
“The Board as a whole has been very supportive of schools of choice in our district,” Trustee Aaron Johnson said. “What we need to figure out, in collaboration with our community, is what programs will provide the greatest benefit to our students.”
We shared seven different timelines for consideration to a next bond election, including scenarios where students return at the rates expected by our demographer and ones with slower enrollment growth due to the global pandemic.
In Texas, districts fund most new construction, major renovations and infrastructure projects by borrowing money. Voters authorize districts to take on new debt through bond elections.
Financial planner presents option to save $63 million on bond refundings
Chief Financial Officer Elaine Cogburn brought a plan to refund several of our current debt obligations, taking advantage of historically low-interest rates, saving a projected $63 million. The savings occur by reducing the debt obligations in 2039–2040, as well as reducing the payments in 2023–2025. The Board will continue to consider this action at a future meeting.