Hart details facility needs to Chamber members
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
The most insightful moment from a presentation on the Liberty Hill ISD bond proposal during the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce Lunch and Learn last week came at the very end, when someone asked what the district’s back up plan was if the bond doesn’t pass.
“We don’t have one,” said Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart. “We’ve never had one. We have to have this. There’s nothing in there we don’t need.”
Hart spent about 20 minutes outlining the circumstances that led to the calling of the Nov. 6 bond election and what it would mean for taxpayers in terms of cost and new facilities for the district.
The school district’s success stories from last year, as well as the recent announcement of its A Accountability Rating is where he began, explaining why the growth is coming to Liberty Hill.
“Accountability ratings came out, and they are A through F for the first time,” Hart said. “And we were an A. Out of 16 school districts in Williamson County, Liberty Hill was the highest performing of all of them. So what happens when you have a winning program? People want to be part of a winner.”
Enrollment changes in Liberty Hill ISD over the last six years, show growth from 2,766 students in 2012 to 2016 when there were 3,649. This year there are 4,377 students to open this school year.
“That’s 728 students over the last few years, and for a Leander or Round Rock, where you have multiple high schools, they would love that, but for us, that’s a challenge,” Hart said of the speedy growth.
When the first bond election was passed in 2010, which included the new high school, the population within the school district limits was about 11,000.
“As of now, there are right at 18,000 within the district and by 2023 there will be right at 27,000,” Hart said.
The growth was further broken down by new homes built within the same time period. In 2012, Stonewall Ranch and Rancho Sienna led the area in closings with 24 and 19 respectively. Hart also made not for the audience which subdivisions were not even on the list in 2012.
“Notice that Santa Rita Ranch is not on there, the Oaks at San Gabriel is not on there, Morningstar is not on there, Liberty Parke is not on there,” he said. “They didn’t exist then.”
Jumping ahead to the last year, Rancho Sienna and Santa Rita combined for 350 new homes built.
“Three of the top four didn’t exist six years ago and now they’re performing the top.” Hart said. “I was just told yesterday that Santa Rita Ranch is planning 300 homes on the ground in 2019 and 400 homes on the ground in 2020. So in the next two years that’s 700 homes coming in just to Santa Rita.”
Based on the district’s average of .72 students per new home built, Hart said those new homes in Santa Rita alone equate to 504 new students.
With all of the growth, the district has no choice but to propose a third bond election since 2010.
“Here we are again doing another bond election,” Hart said. “There are no state funds to build facilities, there is no other way to do it than basically sell bonds and borrow money to build new schools.”
He emphasized that while home values are rising, the tax rate can’t change with this bond election.
“Due to an increase in taxable values, there will be no tax rate increase with this bond, and that’s a guarantee,” Hart said. “We can’t raise taxes, that’s why it is guaranteed, it can’t happen.”
Even with this bond, he said there will be more, and that in three years, all of the campuses are projected to be at capacity.
The repeated bond elections are due to the district’s bonding capacity.
“If we knew the growth was coming (in 2016), why did we only go for $35 million?” Hart asked. “Why didn’t we go ahead and do it then? We were already at 50 cents, we could not go any higher, and at the time our property values meant $35 million was all we could do with a 50 cent tax rate. Two years later, the value has increased so much we are able to do $106 million with the same tax rate.”
The 2018 bond package is to build a new elementary school, a new middle school, convert the Intermediate School into an elementary campus, and add classroom space onto Liberty Hill High School.
The estimated price of the new elementary school, which will house 800 students, is $32.2 million.
The estimated costs of the other projects in the bond proposal are $50.5 million for the new middle school with a 900 capacity; $1.2 million to renovate the Intermediate campus to an elementary school; and $14.7 million to add classroom space onto LHHS.
The district built the high school so that the common areas would accommodate 2,100 students, but expanded classroom space is needed.
“We opened the high school in 2013, but we’re growing so fast we have to add more classroom space,” Hart said. “We also need to add more space for things that didn’t even exist in 2013. An example of that is a robotics shop. When we built that high school we designed it to where the core of it – the cafeteria, athletic facilities and gym space – would accommodate 2,100, knowing we were going to have to add classrooms.”
Hart encouraged anyone with more questions to contact the district office. Early voting begins Oct. 22 and runs through Nov. 2. Election Day is Nov. 6.