LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — Leander Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Bruce Gearing said the district doesn’t expect to have an armed security guard on every district campus by the state’s September deadline, despite a new law requiring it.
Gearing said at this point that’s just not realistic, and that of the district’s 48 schools, only the high schools have school resource officers on campus.
Staffing issues are also hitting the district’s auxiliary staff positions like bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians particularly hard.
To try and bring in more applicants, the district has hired recruiters to try and find potential workers.
Gearing talked with KXAN about issues including staffing, safety, and school achievement ahead of the upcoming school year.
Tom Miller: This is going to be your fifth year school year as superintendent, what have you learned about this community that informs where you go as a district?
Dr. Bruce Gearing: This is a fantastic community of really strong kids, incredible families, and number one, dedicated staff who care about each and every individual child. We’ve been really working hard though on reciprocal communication. We’re really good at putting communication out, but we’re getting better now at really listening to our community. One of the questions we asked them early on was what are the hopes and dreams that you have for your children? And we developed our community-based accountability system. Our strategic plan is informed by that. And then most recently, we’ve really been working through facilities. So as we grow unevenly in the district, how do we manage that strong growth in the north and the declining student population in the south, and really listening to our community to say, ‘what do you want to do with buildings that are slowly getting smaller student populations in them? What do you want to do to manage overcrowded schools in the north?’
Miller: In terms of staffing levels, do you have enough teachers to serve all your students?
Gearing: We do. We always need more. We always want to make sure that we’re 100% staffed. We are not 100% staffed at this time. But we have enough that we can open school and effectively serve all the students that show up. We still need about 120 teachers across the district. But remember, we have 48 campuses, so when you look campus by campus, that number is relatively small.
Miller: In terms of the auxiliary staffing, we’re talking bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, how bad is that need?
Gearing: Our child nutrition services need is the most urgent need we have. We’re constantly looking for those. Again, we can manage to open school and operate, but it does make it more difficult for our current employees. The board has done a great job of making sure that we have adequate compensation for employees. We do hire specific recruiters that are working on transportation and hiring bus drivers, for example, as well as teachers in the district.
Miller: Before parents send their kids to school, they want to make sure that school is safe. Do you believe that all your schools are safe? And are there improvements that still need to be made?
Gearing: We are doing everything in our power to make sure that the safety of our students and our staff is our number one priority. We are working diligently through grant funding, through bond funding, and through our district budget to meet the new TEA standards. We continue to do everything in our power to meet the legislative requirements that they’ve put into place, and we will be very close as we start the school year.
Miller: One of those requirements that you mentioned is having an armed security guard on every campus. Is that going to be realistic when that [law] takes effect in September?
Gearing: It goes into effect on Sept. 1, and it is not realistic for us as a district. We have no funding for this, the state did not provide funding for it. And nor will we be able to hire enough even if we had the funding immediately. We’re working with our local agencies who provide our school resource officers right now. Currently, we have SROs at all of our high schools and we will continue that practice. And we are working on the rest.
Miller: In the most recent district accountability ratings, Leander ISD got a B, an 89 out of 100. How do you continue to improve that?
Gearing: We will continue to work with each and every student on making sure that they get the excellence of education that they require. We’re doing lots of monitoring through our universal screeners through informal assessments throughout the district, as well as those formal assessments that come from the state level. Our measure of success for our students is much bigger than state accountability. That’s why we have a community-based accountability system. That report will come out with state accountability as one small part of that, and we continue to make sure that we really approached the whole student and the needs of all of our community.