Hart: Growth driving need for bond package
By Lauren Jette
Liberty Hill is growing at a fast rate, and along with that new growth is more students enrolling in Liberty Hill Independent School District, according to Superintendent Rob Hart, who spoke at the Chamber Lunch & Learn April 28.
“People are moving here for the best school district in Texas,” Hart told Liberty Hill’s business leaders. About 30 Chamber members and guests attended the luncheon.
Hart presented information about the upcoming bond election. Voters will cast ballots from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at Liberty Hill High School.
The bond proposal is set for $35 million and includes the construction of a new elementary school, updates and renovations to Liberty Hill Elementary School, the Intermediate School, renovations to the agriculture facilities at the Junior High and land acquisition for future growth.
Hart explained that school districts don’t receive state funds to construct new buildings, which means school districts have to issue bonds to raise funds for new projects.
The bond would not raise the LHISD property tax rate, which is set at $1.54, the highest amount allowed by the state, Hart said. He said that $1.04 of that tax goes toward maintenance and operations, which covers fuel for school buses, electricity and teacher salaries for example, while $0.50 of the tax rate goes toward interest and sinking fund, which covers buildings and debt service.
The last school bond Liberty Hill voted on was in 2010, for $86 million, which built a new high school and athletic facilities, renovated the old high school into the junior high, renovated the old junior high into the intermediate, and turned the former intermediate school near downtown into the district’s administration building.
“We knew at the time that the elementary level was going to be our concern in a few years,” Hart said.
He shared numbers showing projected student growth, which estimated that there would be 3,281 students in LHISD in 2016. Hart said the most recent number taken a few weeks ago was already at 3,503 students. A projection for 2020 puts 5,000 students in the district.
Hart said he sees a demographic report every quarter, which shows home starts and lot inventory in the district’s boundaries, which is what enrollment projections are based on.
In the first three months of this year, over 100 homes were started, he said, while the lot inventory (lots ready to be built on) puts over 8,700 lots planned within LHISD’s boundaries. With an average of almost one child per household, that means huge growth for the district in the next several years.
Areas that will be addressed by this bond include growth, safety and security, and aging facilities, he said.
The biggest project in the bond is construction of a new elementary school, located in the Rancho Sienna subdivision off Ronald Reagan Boulevard, with between $28-29 million earmarked for the project. The school will house grades Pre-K through five, with a capacity of 800 students.
“We’re growing so fast… We’ll hit that number before we can get another school up,” Hart said.
Liberty Hill is currently set up as grade level schools, but will switch to community schools, like the Rancho Sienna school.
“This (grade-level) idea works in a small school district. We’re much too large for this now,” Hart said.
Work to Liberty Hill Elementary School will include renovations and upgrades to increase safety, such as a controlled entry system and new intercom system.
The Intermediate School will see plumbing updates, mainly to the eye safety areas in the science labs and new ceiling tiles that weren’t covered by the previous bond package.
“We want to make the quality the same throughout the schools,” Hart said. “Can we make everything shiny and brand new? No, but the quality can be the same.”
With the agriculture facility, a new show arena will be built, along with renovation and new storage spaces for students to keep their animals and a perimeter gate and improved drainage.
Hopefully, there will be some funds left over for land acquisition, because the need for another elementary school will be quickly behind, Hart said.
Hart said he is stressing that there is no tax increase as part of this bond. Funds will be generated from the same tax rate, because home values are higher this year, which will generate more money.
“Building costs are much higher now than they’ve been,” he added.
He also added that new programs and new classes are being added to the curriculum, including an engineering program and first-ever choir program at the high school this upcoming school year.
Liberty Hill is currently an open enrollment district, with a selective application process where principals interview every applicant along with their parents and check references before deciding to admit any student outside of district lines.
When asked how much longer Liberty Hill would be able to stay open enrollment, Hart said, “we don’t know when we’ll close it.”
He added that the district was approaching the numbers that would require them to send back money to the state as part of the Robin Hood law, but it was still “several years away.”
If the bond is passed, Hart said it will take 12 months to construct the two-story school, with construction to start in July, as designs are currently being finalized to expedite the process.
“We don’t have time to waste. You saw the numbers,” he said.
The school is expected to open in time for the start of the 2017 school year.