By SHELLY WILKISON
Fourth quarter 2015 growth in Liberty Hill ISD was “record setting” with 91 home starts and 63 closings. With an average .7 students per household, officials estimate the current rate of new home construction will push school enrollment to 7,000 in 10 years.
Superintendent Rob Hart told school board members Monday that a demographic study commissioned by the school district shows central Texas has been somewhat shielded by the impact of sharp drops in crude oil prices. The study compared the Austin area to Houston where oil-industry jobs declined by 13,261 from 2014 to 2015.
In turn, the Austin area has seen job growth. In fact, 24 percent of all Texas jobs created during the same time period were in the Austin area.
“It (lower oil prices) may be great at the pump, but for the Texas economy it’s pretty tough,” Hart said.
When comparing the two major metropolitan areas, Austin hasn’t felt the effects of problems in the oil industry.
“That’s why we’re still growing, we’re still building and people are still moving in here because we’re not directly related to the oil industry. We’re more diversified,” Hart said.
As new home construction increases, the median price of a home in LHISD jumped by 17 percent since 2014 to $341,504. The median price in the greater Austin area was $283,857 in 2015.
In 2015, there were 387 new home starts and 285 closings — a record high. Last year, builders delivered 648 new lots in the school district.
The study shows that as of December 2015, there were 1,157 vacant developed lots on the ground with 546 future lots under development. Hart said the 1,157 full developed lots represented a 35.9 month supply.
“But this number, 8,700 is the key,” Hart said, referring to the number of future lots planned for the school district.
For Liberty Hill ISD, the increased housing activity means more students. In fact, the study produced by School District Strategies Inc. of Dallas, projects school enrollment to climb by 732 students over the next three years. In five years, the number of students is expected to increase by 1,448 and by over 3,500 in 10 years. With an annual growth rate of 6-8 percent, Hart said the student population will double in 10 years.
“At an average .7 students per house, that pushes our total enrollment growth to more than 7,000 in 10 years. That’s scarey stuff.”
Hart reported that enrollment was at 3,503 this week. He said a grade level breakdown compiled by district administrative staff showed LHISD enrollment at the elementary levels is growing by double digits compared to secondary schools.
“We took care of the secondary level in 2010 (bond election),” he said. “We knew then that our need was going to be at the elementary level. This shows what we have said all along is dead on — it’s the elementary levels where we need the relief.”
LHISD voters will cast ballots May 7 on a $35 million bond package that includes a new elementary school in the Rancho Sienna subdivision. Also included in the bond plan are security improvements to Liberty Hill Elementary and Intermediate schools, renovation of the district’s agriculture facility on the junior high campus, and funds for land acquisition.
According to the demographic report, Liberty Hill Elementary will be over capacity in the fall by 20 students. If voters approve the bond package and Rancho Sienna Elementary School opens as scheduled in fall 2017, there will be relief at the elementary campuses and the Intermediate School will not reach projected capacity until 2025.
He noted that during the current academic year, 44 new students enrolled in third grade. With the state’s required 22-1 student-teacher ratio, the district was forced to create two third grade classes.
Hart said at the current growth rate, the study’s projected enrollment for November 2016 will be surpassed when school starts in August. The report projects 3,700 students in November.
“I don’t think it will take that long,” he said. “Normally, we have 190-250 enroll in the summer and now we’re at 3,500. So it will be over that when we open school in August.”
Liberty Hill High School, which opened to students in 2013, will reach its capacity two years before originally projected. In 2021, projections show the school will be 59 students over capacity.
“That doesn’t mean we have to turn around and build a high school for 50 students. We still have room in there, but that’s where we stand at the current growth rate,” he said.
The fourth quarter 2015 report showed the Rancho Sienna subdivision, which produced 30 percent of the school district’s new homes in 2015, as the top producer. In 2015, Rancho Sienna saw 127 new home starts compared to 83 closings. There are 230 homes occupied there and 1,239 lots left.
Santa Rita Ranch South came in second with 76 starts in 2015 compared to 58 closings. Santa Rita South and Rancho Sienna combined produced 53 percent of new construction last year.
In other business Monday, the Board of Trustees adopted the official school calendar for 2016-2017 that includes one week off for students and staff at Thanksgiving (Nov. 21-25).
School begins for students on Aug. 22. Teachers return from summer vacation on Aug. 9. Graduation for the class of 2017 will be on May 26, 2017.
Curriculum Director Cleaudeane Braun said creation of the calendar was based on the state’s new requirement that instructional time be measured in minutes rather than days. The law requires 420 minutes per day.
“That’s the new law this year, that we have to have so many minutes to enable districts to make up with bad weather days,” Hart added.
Following 30-minute closed session, the Board accepted the resignations of Melva Dunan, a Life Skills teacher at Bill Burden Elementary; Travis Filipp, high school agriculture teacher; Christi Dreier, high school English teacher; Donna Bergman, second grade teacher; and Joel Gotcher, high school football coach and social studies teacher.
The Board approved the employment of Emily Richeson as an Instructional Technologist; Margaret Davis, sixth grade teacher; and David Robertson, Academic Life Skills at the Intermediate School.