Tuesday, February 14, 2012

School Zone Disaster Zone in Round Rock ISD: Updated

Last week I described what appears to be an attempt to silence and intimidate Round Rock School Board Trustee Terri Romere and possibly other members of the board. However, there is another important aspect to the story; that of a RRISD boundary determination process that has been seriously compromised and has led the community to lose faith in a fair outcome.

The Saga of the RRISD Boundary Process is rather lengthy, but worth the read. The evidence shows that:

  1. The RRISD Administration has used insufficient methodology to predict enrollment trends resulting in inaccurate projections..
  2. The RRISD Administration's boundary proposal ignores the needs and desires of most of the community.
  3. The RRISD Administration has controlled the Boundary Committee agenda, refused to allow presentation of a second viable boundary proposal to the committee, and misrepresented the details of the second boundary proposal.
  4. The RRISD Administration allowed the Boundary Committee chairman to inappropriately poll select committee members in a non-open setting without the knowledge of the other committee members, and with incorrect data.
  5. The RRISD Administration and Boundary Committee have not followed procedure and policy as outlined in the Boundary Committee charter.

Insufficient Methodology and a Brief History

The problems with the RRISD boundary determination process actually date back to 2008-09. At that time, the district was preparing to bring online a new 5th High School, Cedar Ridge. As is inevitable with any rezoning process, some parents were unhappy with having to move their children, but there was more to it than that. First of all, at that time the district plan did not consider parental demand for 'Vertical Alignment,' that is, keeping neighborhood students together through elementary, middle, and high school.

Secondly, several members of the community noticed that the district was using unreliable methods to project enrollment growth. (More on that later.) Erik Okerholm, a business intelligence professional who holds three Masters Degrees, worked to formulate accurate projections and create a boundary proposal that would maintain Vertical Alignment. Furthermore, the Okerholm plan was designed to serve the district for 12 years or more.

Unfortunately, despite some very controversial hearings and impassioned pleas from the community, the Board voted to implement the proposal created by the RRISD administration. The decision became a factor in the subsequent school board elections as both trustees Bobby Seiferman and Terri Romere campaigned that they would have voted for Vertical Alignment, that is, the Okerholm plan.

Unfortunately for the families of the District, the administration's projections were inaccurate, and by 2011 the administration was forced to call for yet another boundary determination process to relieve over-crowding at the new Cedar Ridge High School. The RRISD Board and Administration drew up a new Boundary Committee charter and appointed new committee members, including Tere McCann, a CFO and CPA.

Since the 2009 plan did prove to be problematic, one would think the RRISD Administration would try to improve the process. A few changes were made, but again not enough to provide accurate projections. For starters, according to Tere McCann and Erik Okerholm, the Administration is still not using reliable methods to project enrollment growth. For example, Okerholm notes that while the Administration's boundary proposal bases growth projections on a 3 year trend, Okerholm's Vertical Alignment proposal (VA) relies on 5 years of growth trends. Also, the administration's analyst does not seem to understand the importance of basing calculations for high school enrollment growth on real numbers of students in the system's lower grades. (McCann and Okerholm refer to these as 'kids in seats,' and this kind of data has provided a far more accurate methodology.)

In addition, the Administration projections are based on spreading projected growth across the entire district, when in actuality, the 'land-locked zone for Westwood High School will not grow as much as the zone for Stony Point High School due to new housing/population growth there. Also, historically growth in the area is not spread evenly across grade level. Elementary grades tend to grow at a higher pace than Middle School grades, and High School growth drops off further. (For a more in-depth explanation of cohort survival ratio read here, and see paragraph “How are new housing developments taken into account?”)

How significant are these differences? Very. According to Okerholm, the RRISD Administration's 2008 projections for 2012 were off by nearly 500 students, while his own methodology was accurate to within 21 students. Regarding the 2012 projections, although enrollment growth over the past 5 years averages at only 1.63% with the highest year at 3.8%, the Administration claims that student growth next year will be a whopping 6.1%. (View graph here, Detailed data here.)

Needs and Desires of the Community: Vertical Alignment, Real Children, and Fiscal Responsibility

There are several other important differences between the Administration's boundary proposal and Erik Okerholm's VA proposal, more of the most significant being Vertical Alignment for Round Rock families. While the Okerholm plan considers the human aspect of the equation and creates a district-wide Vertical Alignment, the Administration plan only protects Vertical Alignment for students in the Westwood High School zone. Even more disturbing is the Administration proposal's requirement that Wells Branch neighborhood would move to their third High School zone in three years.

The utter disregard for the families of Wells Branch is difficult to fathom. One explanation might be the socio-economic status of Wells Branch as compared to say, Great Oaks. Since in many Wells Branch families both parents work, they have less time for activism and have been less vocal. There is also lower voter participation in Wells Branch, and consequently certain Board members may not be as interested in that community. (The only RRISD Board Member who appears to have reached out to that part of the district is Terri Romere.)

And as always, there are fiscal aspects to the two proposals. The Administration proposal will require 58 portable buildings spread across the 5 High Schools, while the Okerholm VA plan only requires 18 portables, and only where needed. Fewer portables means better facility utilization, and under the Okerholm VA plan, the district would save approximately $540,000 next year alone. Furthermore, while the Okerholm/VA plan is designed to serve the community until 2020, the Administration proposal will only maintain manageable enrollments through 2015, forcing yet another set of boundary changes in 2016 with all the associated costs.

How do we know the community supports a Vertical Alignment boundary plan? Every Boundary Committee hearing has been overwhelmed by parents opposing the Administration proposal. They have been vocal, impassioned, and pleading, but for the most part ignored.

And by the way, the ONLY RRISD Board Member who has attended every single hearing held by the Boundary Committee is Terri Romere. Only two other Board members bothered to attend, and they only went to two hearings.

Third World Politics: “Everyone Gets to Vote, But There's Only One Candidate”

Probably one of the most troubling aspects of this story is the Administration's handling of the Boundary Committee. The Committee consists of 15 individuals, 7 appointed by the respective members of the elected School Board, and 8 appointed by the Administration. They held their first meeting back on November 16 and have held 4 hearings since then.

Although the public perception and expectation was that the Boundary Committee would solicit and act on input from the community and adjust proposed boundaries accordingly, that is not what occurred. From the beginning, the Administration controlled the agenda of said meetings, and even after repeated requests from the public, and even after the Committee agreed to consider the Okerholm VA Proposal, the Administration refused to allow Okerholm to make a presentation to the Boundary Committee.

Even worse, the Administration only allowed the Boundary Committee to use its own Administration comparison numbers between the two plans, and those numbers were incorrect. As both Tere McCann and Erik Okerholm pointed out in a January 13 meeting with the RRISD superintendent and demographer, (as well as in official grievances filed, ) in the last communication prior to the Boundary Committee's recommendation on January 19, the Administration plan numbers were incorrect due to a spreadsheet error, but the Okerholm/VA plan numbers were also, inexplicably, incorrect.

Improper Polling of Select Committee Members

The final meeting of the Boundary Committee took place on January 11. As the district's data was provided to the boundary committee a mere 87 minutes prior to the start of the final committee meeting, Tere McCann did not notice the errors in the data provided by the Administration to the committee. Consequently, the Committee took a vote on the boundary proposals without corrected data. McCann had been in frequent email communication with the Administration and Committee President Tom McDonald on these errors after the final committee meeting and before the board meeting.

In response to McCann's protest, after the meeting and vote, Boundary Committee President Tom McDonald sent an email ONLY to members of the committee who had voted for the Administration's plan: He presents a “quick comparison” of the 'corrected' numbers, and then states:

The basic comparison looks the same to me, with the district plan relieving Cedar Ridge better than the EO plan. The revised numbers don't change my opinion that the district plan is better.
ut I want to hear what you think - please let me know.”

What's more is that the 'corrected' information Tom McDonald sent to the select members of the committee still misrepresented the Okerholm/VA Proposal, and possibly inappropriately swayed the votes taken by those committee members.

Intentional Misrepresentation?

Prior to the Board meeting on January 19, McCann continued to discuss the errors with the Administration and Committee President McDonald. He had hoped that in light of the errors, the Administration would recommend a postponement of the vote. In his grievance filed with the district he states:

“I made my second of the two biggest mistakes as a boundary committee member; I trusted Mr. McDonald and the administration to present my views and contributions accurately and fairly.”

He was wrong. McCann notes in his grievance that although he was out of town on business he turned on the televised RRISD meeting and “was surprised to see Dr. Chavez and other board members commenting on my efforts in a false and misleading manner.” In addition, he was further surprised to receive the final committee report at 10:35pm after the boundary committee presentation to the board. The final Boundary Committee report as submitted to the Board of Trustees on January 19, contained multiple misrepresentations of his both his data and his stance, but according to McCann, the Administration and Committee President have refused to amend the report.

District Violates Own Policy

Regardless of which proposal one prefers, all residents should be disturbed by the district's apparent violations of its own policies. In her email to Dr. Chavez and President Chadwell, Board Member Terri Romere outlines these alleged violations of policies in which the ISD has chosen not to address. 

Romere notes that:

*the District did not hold the required hearings at each affected school,
*The district ignored input from the majority of participants at the hearings,
*The District gave less than 24 hours notice to communities affected (Policy requires 5 days)
*The District only provided notice via one channel of communication.

Additionally, although the charter says that the Boundary Committee “shall look at all high school campuses to relieve the projected growth at Cedar Ridge High School,” the Administration has refused to consider any proposal that considered enrollments at Westwood or Round Rock High Schools.

The established policy guidelines along with Romere's comments can be viewed here

Treating All RRISD Children Equally

To be fair, there are a vocal few who wholeheartedly support the Administration's plan. A handful of parents from the Great Oaks neighborhood have been especially vitriolic in attacking the Okerholm/VA proposal because it would return Great Oaks to its 2009 zone, that is, to McNeil High School. These parents have been circulating emails containing various mischaracterizations of the VA plan. (And even some rather far-fetched conspiracy theories about diabolical football coaches contriving to steal star football players.) Those emails led to the email chain to which I referred last week.  Sadly, the emails sent out by this group of Great Oaks parents reveal a shocking lack of compassion or concern for any other children of the district, including the students of the Wells Branch area (who will be sent to their 3rd High School in 3 years).

It should be noted however, that the Great Oaks neighborhood is far from unified in support for the Administration proposal. In fact, Great Oaks resident Whitney Loitz is one of several parents who have now filed a grievance over the District's alleged policy violations and disregard for community input. You may read her grievance here.

There is one other difference in the two proposals. The Administration's plan does not allow younger siblings to attend the same high school as their older siblings; only those who apply and are approved by a subjective administration review will be allowed to transfer. On the other hand, the Okerholm/VA proposal allows for something about which this administration has never been comfortable: a good measure of parental choice. The VA plan allows current high school students and their siblings to voluntarily move to the newly assigned zones. If they wish to remain at their current high school, they may do so.

Since the Wells Branch students moved from Round Rock High School last year, they are very enthusiastic to move back-allowed only under the Okerholm VA plan. The Administration plan takes volunteers too; but only allows the Wells Branch students to move to McNeil High School, their third high school in three years. Wells Branch parents vow they will not voluntarily move to McNeil, and this is part of the reason that the Administration's proposal will not relieve over-crowding at Cedar Ridge High School next year.

Other neighborhoods are equally unhappy with the Administration plan; pleas from parents in Stone Oak and Mayfield Ranch to return to Round Rock High School have fallen on deaf ears, as have the requests from Great Oaks parents wishing to return their students to McNeil. To all appearances, it seems the Administration plan ignores the vast majority of parents in the district.

Final Comments

Special kudos to those who've read through all of this. I would like to note that I have received a vast quantity of documents, statements, and email evidence from concerned members of the community, in fact, there is much more than I can possibly upload for you. I have linked to the most significant documents, but I can assure you that I have source material for the statements in this article.

The series of events I've outlined here indicate that the boundary determination process has been seriously compromised. Consequently, the most prudent course of action for the RRISD Board would be to postpone the boundary proposal vote until these issues can be properly vetted and remedied. The ISD's own local policy FC states a decision needs to be finalized by May 15th -plenty of time to reconcile the mass amounts of grievances and perform due diligence on both plans.

If you agree, please contact the respective members of the Board, and please plan to attend the meeting at the Round Rock High School Lecture Hall on February 16, at 7pm. I hope to see you there.

Please email members of the Round Rock School Board:

UPDATE:  Apparently Tere McCann has issued a challenge to the Round Rock Administration numbers;  McCann will donate up to $10,000 to challenge.  Read more.


dragonmomof3 said...

Holly has hit a home run-again! The rottonness in RRISD just keeps festering and will continue to do so until CHavez and his yes men, Chadwell, Cox and Hanna are reigned in, fired or voted out of office!

ConcernedRRHSParent said...

Holly, how dare you state that “Great Oaks parents reveal a shocking lack of compassion or concern for any other children of the district, including the students of the Wells Branch area (who will be sent to their 3rd High School in 3 years.)”. This really just discredits your whole article, even some points that I would agree with. To be perfectly clear, the Great Oaks neighborhood is about the only neighborhood that truly understands what Wells Branch is going through. Yes, the VA plan would move Great Oaks to 3 High Schools in the same period, plus we will get to move a 4th time in 7-10 years when HS 6 is opened. We want stability to our neighborhood just like Wells Branch, and to say we lack compassion is just totally WRONG.
Great Oaks fought long and hard 3 years ago not to be moved from McNeil. We lost and had to move to RRHS due to overcrowding at McNeil. Now the VA plan wants us to go back to the same overcrowded HS that they made us move from to start with??? Our kids have adjusted and we are doing fine as a community. The VA plan shows that McNeil will be overcrowded if Great Oaks moves back. This does not even take into account the undeveloped areas that will feed McNeil (Avery Ranch, Pearson Ranch, Highland Horizon). They will be zoned to McNeil as well as the 4 apartment complexes that are in the planning stage for the 620/ Parmer area, but no one wants to talk about that in the VA projections. My understanding is the apartment growth was the cause of the overcrowding at Cedar Ridge and it is already looking to do the same thing to McNeil in less than 4 years -- the VA plan will make it worse. If I was a betting man, McNeil will be overcrowded again before the new HS6 is opened and Great Oaks would have to be moved for a 5th time back to RRHS. You can drive through our area today and see McNeil and RRHS signs across the street from each other so don’t tell me another move would make it any better by having flexibility on which high school my kid gets to go to. The next move we want is to HS6.
One last thing - if Greats Oaks was moved to McNeil and they build HS6, who would be left at McNeil when it opens? Long term it makes sense to move kids from RRHS and McNeil to the new school and then you will have Vertical Alignment and not have to move additional kids back to McNeil in the future.
Richard (A Concerned Great Oaks Parent)

Holly Hansen said...

Thank you for your input. The 'lack of concern' comment is derived from a series of emails circulated by a handful of Great Oaks parents that has been given to me. I have chosen not to post those emails out of regard for the reputations of those parents, since the contents are so appalling. They may not be ashamed of their respective comments, but on reading their emails, I was ashamed for them.

I'd also like to note that Great Oaks is not the only neighborhood that has suffered the consequences of poorly planned zoning. I believe Berkman students have had more than their fair share of re-assignments. Furthermore, Great Oaks would not move to a 3rd in 4 years; under VA they would move a 2nd time- back to their original high school. High School 6 will not be built for 8-10 years; Dr. Chavez confirmed that in one of the public hearings.

sak said...

Bravo....I think we need a strong turnout tonight...all wearing tees that ask for new leadership of the board....How much more of Chavez can this community take! He is not a leader and our children are suffering for it.