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Round Rock ISD school attendance zone changes spark concerns from parents

Austin American-Statesman - 2/5/2020

A proposal that would move hundreds of students in the Brushy Creek area from one elementary school to another has sparked concerns from parents.

The plan -- which would have about 220 students transferred from Elsa England Elementary School to Great Oaks Elementary School -- is a means to address overcrowding at three elementary schools. The move is also a means to prepare for the Round Rock school district's 35th elementary school, which is slated to open next school year in the northeastern area of the district.

As many as six school attendance zones -- three elementary and three middle -- could be changed under the proposed plans. The board is scheduled to review the plans on Feb. 13, following with a scheduled vote on Feb. 20.

Several parents from Great Oaks are accusing the district of shifting the problem of over-enrollment to their school without proper notification.

"This is not only just shifting the capacity problem, it is unleashing a series of new problems, the main concern being safety," several parents wrote in an email to the board.

The school district has held six community meetings over the last two weeks and sent personalized emails to parents in communities where students could be moved to a different school or feeder pattern. However, the district didn't send personalized emails or hold meetings specifically for campuses that will be gaining more students.

School enrollment numbers from the end of January show 756 students were attending Great Oaks, while the school's capacity is 716. Elsa England showed 1,299 students were enrolled, while its capacity is 916.

"It is one grossly overpopulated school versus two slightly overpopulated schools," said board President Amy Weir. "There is no great solution because we don't have land to build another elementary."

District communications director Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said Elsa England serves a growing community, with some estimates showing as many as 1,400 students attending the school if nothing changes.The student body at Great Oaks is expected to remain stable.

Several parents have suggested moving Elsa England students to Deep Wood Elementary, but enrollment data show that campus is also overcapacity.

LaCoste-Caputo said the struggle with capacity issues at schools is due to a lack of land available to build new elementary schools. She said the district is looking daily for opportunities to purchase land.

She also pointed to school capacity numbers being based on historical estimates, which may not accurately represent a campus' true capacity. The new elementary school set to open next school year will help with some capacity issues at nearby schools, she said.

Not all parents are against the attendance zone changes. Lorie Albright said her children were at Great Oaks prior to Elsa England opening and that the campus operated smoothly despite having 1,100 students.

"(Some parents) are afraid of the impact on their child, but having experienced those numbers -- as long as the district is planning to give us the resources and staff we need -- I don't see a problem," she said.

Albright said she supports the proposal because students living in the Highland Horizon neighborhood who would be moved from Elsa England to Great Oaks are already in the same feeder patterns as Great Oaks students. The current plan has the students splitting from their Elsa England peers when they advance to middle school.

But several Great Oaks parents have posed concerns over a growing student body leading to as many as 10 new portable classrooms at the school. But LaCoste-Caputo called that number inflated. The district will likely be able to find additional academic space within the campus, she said, which would avoid the need for additional portables.

In an email to several Great Oak parents, Trustee Cory Vessa described the options over school boundary changes as "bad and worse."

"If enough parents and community members raise a fuss, you will get the board and administration's attention," she wrote. "Whether that impacts the ultimate decision, I don't know."

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