Trustees vote to refinance bonds, close budget gap

Liberty Hill school trustees on Monday voted to refinance bonds issued in 2006, which administrators say should bring in the revenue needed to put the school district in the black for the upcoming fiscal year.

Chief Financial Officer Frank Watson said budget projections, which could change as soon as next week when Williamson County certifies property values, show the district may be $142,000 short in debt service. While that number is subject to change when taxable values change, the vote Monday set in motion a plan to close the gap by refinancing construction bonds from the 2006 series at a lower interest rate and lowering premiums.

Officials estimate that refinancing the bonds will save the district $159,000 in fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1.

“I promised the budget would be in the black this year, and I expect that to happen,” said Watson. “But, we won’t have the certified numbers until next week.”

Based on preliminary numbers, Watson projected the General Fund to have $82,752 after expenses. However, in debt service the fund balance could be short $142,030 and Food Service Fund could be short $61,934.

Watson said he is working with Sodexo, the company that provides food service for the district, to reevaluate costs and help find ways to sell more products.

“We’re coming up short on revenues, and we’re coming up with a plan to increase revenues in cafeterias,” Watson said, adding that revenue projections for the coming school year will likely be higher when the Board sees the official budget proposal next month.

“We will need to make it (cafeteria food) more appealing and less labor intensive,” he said. “We will watch our labor better, have better control of serving lines and increase a la carte sales at more campuses. We will look at profitability of what we are preparing. We want to have more appealing food in a more cordial atmosphere.”

The district will also consider recommendations to implement a $900 pay increase for teachers in fiscal 2014.

In 2013, Liberty Hill raised salaries by an average 3 percent for all employees and adopted a new pay scale. Last year’s increase was recommended after a salary survey conducted by Texas Association of School Boards showed Liberty Hill salaries were lower than their colleagues in school districts within a 50-mile radius. The pay increase proposed for 2014-2015 is part of the district’s effort to be more competitive.

Also Monday, Superintendent Rob Hart informed trustees that demolition and construction work on the new administration building was put on hold last week after project architects and contractors were informed by the Liberty Hill Fire Marshal that the City of Liberty Hill does not have the water needed to support the system that was proposed for fire suppression.

Hart explained that because more than 50 percent renovations are planned for the former Liberty Hill Intermediate School campus, it must meet updated fire codes. He said a GMP (gross maximum price) adopted by trustees last month included funds for a system that was more cost effective than a sprinkler system. However, when it came time to approve a permit, Fire Marshal Mark Rosenbusch said the district would have to add a fire hydrant. Then he informed them that the City didn’t have the water supply to support the system.

Hart said it will cost school district taxpayers about $54,000 more than anticipated to install a sprinkler system. That system will meet the four-hour fire flow requirement with a 50 percent output.

“We had this issue before when we were considering water at the new high school,” Hart said. “That’s why we went to Chisholm Trail (Special Utility District for water). The city doesn’t have the gallons per minute flow required in the fire code.”

Engineers for the City of Liberty Hill are in the process of trying to obtain water from Lake Travis via the City of Leander. But it could be two years before the infrastructue is in place and water is flowing.

Hart said he and others working on the construction project met with City Manager Greg Boatright to discuss the issue and Boatright was cooperative.

“We discussed different scenarios, and he (Boatright) is on our side and is trying to help us,” Hart said.

Today, the City is mostly dependant on water wells and water purchased from Chisholm Trail.

“When you’re dependant on water wells, you can’t guarantee a flow for four hours sustained,” Hart said.

Contractors say the estimated price does not include the costs that will be incurred connecting the building to the City’s water source.

Hart said the projected completion date for the new administration building is December.

In other business Monday, trustees voted to suspend for one year implementation of a policy that requires students in grades five and eight to meet the passing standards on the state-mandated math test in order to be promoted.

Hart explained that because the state has not yet adopted passing standards for the math STAAR the requirement should be put on hold for the coming academic year only.

Trustees also heard an annual report on English as a Second Language and Migrant programs from ESL Director Trudy Hawthorne.

Mrs. Hawthorne said the district is not yet required to have a bilingual program because it does not meet the state threshold of 20 students in the same grade who speak the same foreign language. Any number less than 20 requires ESL. She said the district requires all teachers to obtain ESL certification within two years of employment. Records from 2013-2014 showed LHISD had 95 students enrolled as English Language Learners and six of those were immigrant students from Mexico, Russia and Vietnam.

Following a 20-minute closed session, trustees approved the resignations of Amanda Burson, sixth grade; Elizabeth Drake, LHJH librarian; and Rebecca Pavlovsky, fourth grade.

The Board hired the following individuals for 2014-2015: Rodolfo Acevedo, LHHS science/coach; Eric Breland, LHHS ASL; Lauren Claymon, LHHS librarian; Keeley Copeland, LHIS life skills; Sandra Duncan, LHJH nurse; Cacie Gates, BBE SpEd/Inclusion; Courtney Givens, LHJH Bus/ Tech/Yearbook; Christina Kent, BBE PE teacher; Gina Maples, LHES first grade; Katharine McGraw, LHJH librarian; Emily Newman, LHES kindergarten; Jennifer Norris, LHIS sixth grade; Vickie Peterson, LHHS Tech Ap/Bus; and Emily Turner, LHES insructional technologist.

Hart also noted that high school teacher Tammy Ballard had recently been recognized by the Texas Cultural Trust for her efforts in the new class Theatre and Media Communications.