By SHELLY WILKISON
School trustees adopted a $44 million budget Monday that was higher than first proposed due to an unexpected increase in enrollment the first week of school.
Superintendent Rob Hart said at the end of the school day last Friday, the district had picked up 324 new students bringing total enrollment to 3,990.
Enrollment when school ended in May was 3,666.
“We’ve never had anything like that before,” Hart said, adding that 100 of the new students had registered last week — the first week of school.
“That’s why we’re adding teaching staff tonight,” Hart said.
LHISD Human Resources Director Bobby Mabry said of the 324 new students, 226 of those are in grades pre-kindergarten through four.
Enrollment projections set by the school district’s demographer earlier this year for the purpose of developing attendance zones for each elementary campus, were lower than the actual numbers the first week of school. Enrollment at Bill Burden Elementary was 95 students higher than projected, and Rancho Sienna Elementary was 165 students over the projection.
Mabry said 11 new teaching positions are needed now to meet the state-mandated 22-1 student-teacher ratio in those grades.
The previous budget proposal presented to trustees last month included funding for 25 new teacher and staff positions, primarily to staff the new Rancho Sienna Elementary School. The budget adopted Monday now includes 36 new positions.
Mabry said the additional 98 new students at the secondary level can be accommodated this year by making class sizes somewhat larger.
Board members questioned whether the additional students are transfers under the school district’s open enrollment policy.
Hart said they are not transfers. The most significant growth is at the newly-opened Rancho Sienna Elementary that serves the top two performing subdivisions in the district — Rancho Sienna and Santa Rita. He said a representative of Newland Communities at Rancho Sienna said home sales increased by 35 percent after construction started on the new school in 2016.
“I’m a bit perplexed on how they (demographers) missed it (the enrollment projection) that bad,” said Trustee Clint Stephenson. “That’s a big miss.”
Hart said that some address data provided to the demographer at the first of the year was not completely accurate, accounting for some shortage. However, most was due to registration after the first day of school.
The total budgeted for personnel in fiscal 2017 was increased by $550,000 due to the need for additional teachers and staff.
To help cover some of the costs of additional staffing at Rancho Sienna, the district will increase by $57,469 its request to the state for a New Instructional Facilities Allotment (NIFA) in the amount of $529,076.
Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Hanna explained that other expenditures were reduced to help offset the costs of adding the 11 teachers. She said contracted services and supplies were reduced by $149,729 from the July budget version. Additionally, debt services were reduced by $218,278 due to reduced technology capital lease purchases and retirement of debt.
The budget adopted by a unanimous vote Monday — with members Anthony Buck and David Nix absent — also includes a pay increase for all employees.
The pay increase, which was discussed last month, is 2 percent for teachers ($1,000/year), and 2 percent at the midpoint for all other employees. The district will also increase by $15 its contribution to employee health insurance to $300 per month.
Personnel costs represent 81 percent of the school district’s total operating expenditures, which are budgeted at $33.5 million.
Trustees also adopted an ad valorem tax rate of $1.54 per $100 property valuation. Of that, $1.04 goes toward Maintenance & Operations (M&O), and $0.50 goes to Interest & Sinking (I&S) or debt service.
The tax rate did not change from the previous year and is at the maximum rate allowed.
With the average taxable value of a residence in the school district at $306,233 — up from $284,864 in fiscal 2016 — the average homeowner will pay $329 more in LHISD property taxes.
Ad valorem tax plus cafeteria sales and miscellaneous additional local revenue is projected to generate $30.8 million, an increase of $3.19 million over the current fiscal year.
The school district will receive additional revenue from the state ($11.7 million) and federal government ($1.6 million) contributing to the total revenue of $44,159,183 in fiscal 2017.
Of the $44,057,481 total budget, $10.5 million goes toward debt service — a 10.83 percent increase over 2016 due to bonds approved for the new elementary school and other construction projects.
Also Monday, the Board approved an Agreement for the purchase of Attendance Credits, which Hart explained is required by the state for Chapter 41 school districts that fall in the “gap” between Chapter 41 designation and recapture status.
Even though LHISD does not have to pay recapture funds yet, it must still document each year how it would go about paying those funds if it were to be required.
“We’re not a recapture district having to pay money back to the state, but because we are a Chapter 41 district in the gap, we have to indicate how we would liquidate wealth if we were in that position,” Hart said, adding that LHISD was on the first level of Chapter 41 status.
Hanna said the agreement states that if it were to be required, Liberty Hill would “net its recapture funds against what the state would pay us (LHISD) and follow the payment plan so that we’re not writing a check to them.”
Current school finance law was established in an effort to equalize resources between wealthy and economically disadvantaged school districts.
Following a brief executive session, the Board approved the resignations of the following: Janet Hill, special education teacher at Bill Burden; Melissa Janisheck, special education teacher at Rancho Sienna; Grace Rowse, special education teacher at the high school; and Amy Waters, 3rd grade at Rancho Sienna.
The Board approved the employment of the following: Lisa Cunningham, special education at Burden; Courtney Dean, 4th Grade at Rancho; Benete Doerr, teacher/Coach at LHJH; Jennifer Dupre, English at LHHS; Jennifer Edwards, 1st Grade at Rancho; Megan Fitzgerald, Dance at LHJH.
Also, Renee Grumbles, Social Studies at LHHS; Doris Jeannie Guajardo, 1st Grade at Rancho; Alicia Jimenez, 3rd Grade at Rancho; Sasha Kennedy, special education/Autism at LH Elementary; Dana Krizan, 1st Grade at Burden; Loretta Reihhardt, special education at Rancho; Amy Rodriquez, 2nd Grade at Rancho; Fernando Sanchez, special education at Burden; and Marlo Saunders, Social Studies/Coach at LHHS.
Trustees also approved changes to the Student Code of Conduct, most of which were recommended by Texas Association of School Boards following changes in state law adopted by the Legislature.
One local change approved by the Board was the administrative recommendation not to provide transportation to students assigned to DAEP (Disciplinary Alternative Education Program). In the past, the district has provided bus transportation to the in-district DAEP classroom located in a portable building on the Junior High campus.
Assistant Superintendent Chad Pirtle told the Board the decision was about protecting the safety of other students on the bus. Students assigned to DAEP for punishment are in grades 7-12.
“I never read all of the Code of Conduct until now,” said Trustee Vickie Peterson. “There are a lot of things there, that even as a teacher, I was not aware of.”
The Code of Conduct can be found on the school district’s website at www.libertyhill.txed.net/students/student_handbooks.
Although Board approval was not required on the Student Handbooks for each campus, Pirtle said one change had been made in the district’s dress code clarifying the language on leggings and yoga pants. Campus administrators recommended that a shirt or dress that is “longer than the student’s fingertips when arms are fully extended down the sides of the body.”
Stephenson said the dress code goes too far in some cases, particularly regarding girls shorts and distressed or frayed blue jeans.
“They don’t make them (girls shorts) long except for basketball shorts,” he said.
Stephenson also questioned the rule about covering leggings and yoga pants with a full length shirt.
“I get we have to walk a line. But if it’s already covered, why would we need to go that far with an overshirt to full length?”
“Some girls look cute, but we can’t go to the others and tell them they don’t look cute,” said Junior High Principal Annette Coe.
Principals say they do enforce the dress code on every campus, but catching every infraction is a challenge.
“We don’t catch them all,” said Coe. “I have 657 on my campus, and we do check them.”
She added that extra clothes are available at each school for those who are “dress coded”. But, many students know when they arrive that they are out of compliance, and some bring additional clothes with them.
Stephenson and other board members said they receive more complaints from constituents about the dress code and its enforcement than any other issue.
In other matters, the Board approved:
– The District’s T-TESS appraisers and appraisal calendar for the school year
– The LHISD Investment Policy
– The Student Technology Acceptable Use Policy and Staff Technology Acceptable Use Policy — both unchanged from the past academic year
– Internet content filtering by iBoss, Inc., arranged through Region XIII; and
– Four off campus private or commercial PE substitutions for the school year, including Texas Gold Swim, Cimarron Hills Junior Golf, Acro Tex, and MA Dance Project.
The Board also heard reports on:
– District and Accountability Ratings
_ Updates on professional development prior to the start of school; and
– Facility improvements and construction.
Also Monday, the regular meeting of the Board for the month of December was moved to Dec. 11 due to the winter break.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Cole Stevens, a local business owner and resident of Rio Ancho subdivision requested the Board consider an exception to the transfer policy for Rio Ancho residents.
The Rio Ancho subdivision is divided between Liberty Hill ISD and Burnet ISD. Stevens said he lives 3.5 miles from the nearest Liberty Hill school, but it is a two-hour bus ride to Burnet. His oldest child has been admitted as a transfer student in Liberty Hill, but he is concerned the open enrollment policy will end.
He asked the Board to “act now to allow an exception to Rio Ancho to pay tuition for our kids and be treated as in-district students.”