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Brand New Leander ISD School Sitting Empty

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 09:47 PM CDT

It took $25 million of your tax money to build, but there is a brand new elementary school in Cedar Park just sitting vacant.

In a KEYE TV Waste Watch investigation, we dug into why a school district would build a school and then let it sit empty.

In 2007, taxpayers gave the Leander Independent School District $25 million in bond money for a new elementary school.  The school was built and slated to open in 2011.  LISD delayed opening in 2011, then again in 2012, and has now decided it will once again delay opening 2013.

Right now, the beautifully built elementary school operates as the ultimate playground for neighborhood children. They ride their bikes in the empty parking lot, climb on the empty bike racks near the locked front doors and run across the spacious campus.  It's a great place to exercise – everything except their minds.

"It's crazy!" said nanny Janice Pryor who was letting her kids play at the school. "Why did they build it if they aren't going to open it to the kids?"

The vacant elementary school sits as a tease for parents living in the same neighborhood as the empty school, like Kathy Rea who has four elementary school-aged children.

"It's frustrating," said Rea. "We have this big empty parking lot, it's a concern. I don't understand why. It just seems like a waste, because our tax dollars paid for it."

Rea sends her four kids on a bus ride every day to an elementary school across town. She's waiting patiently for the day when she can just let them walk across the street.

"It will be wonderful," she said. "It is just frustrating that we have to wait another year."

The Leander Independent School District (LISD) said the decision to keep the school closed for another year comes down to money.

"We can build them, but we can't necessarily fund the operations of those schools," said Veronica Sopher with LISD communications.

Sopher explained that the school board asked voters for the money before the recession hit and the economy slowed.  After it was approved, it was too late to designate the money for any other use besides school construction.

"In the state of Texas, buildings are built with bond money that the voters approve, and the voters say how that money is to be used. You can't go back and switch buckets, if you will," said Sopher.

The school district says it's saving $600,000 a year, in costs like staffing and supplies, by not opening the building.   

The trade-off is over-crowded classrooms in other schools.  The district says there are enough kids, but not enough money, to fill Reed Elementary.

"I want to be very clear, we're not saying we don't need the school," said Sopher. "We're saying we can't afford to operate the school."

So now the 2013-2014 school year will also come and go with Reed Elementary operating as a glorified playground.

In the same 2007 bond, taxpayers also approved another $80 million for the design and construction of six more elementary schools, planned to be needed after Reed Elementary.

By Karen KileyBrand New Leander ISD School Sitting Empty



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