By Rachel Madison
Enrollment in the Liberty Hill Independent School District continues to climb rapidly, a trend that hasn’t surprised Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart in quite some time.
“Every quarter is a record breaking quarter,” said Hart as he presented the district’s third quarter demographics report at Monday’s regular school board meeting.
The report is compiled quarterly by the firm School District Strategies of Dallas, which the school district uses to monitor housing trends and project student enrollment.
Every August, the firm uses data from the most recent census to project the school district’s overall population. That number is estimated to be 15,920, which is up 40.6 percent since the original 2010 census was taken.
“Since 2010, the district’s overall population and number of households has increased at an average of 6 percent per year,” Hart said. “By 2022, we’re projected to have 21,410 residents in the school district.”
District enrollment climbed to 4,038 by the end of the third quarter of 2017, but as of early December, had already increased to 4,066.
“We’ve increased by 1,187 students over the past five years and 1,670 students over the last 10 years,” Hart said. “Our total enrollment increased by 357 students over the last 12-month period. That’s 9.7 percent growth. That’s the fastest annual growth the district has had over the last 13 years.”
The report also highlighted growth by attendance level. At the elementary level, the district grew to 1,637, and at the high school level it grew to 1,125 — both over the last five-year period. Record class sizes were recorded in nearly every grade. The only ones that weren’t at a record high were second, sixth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades. The largest class is first grade at 341 and the smallest class is 11th grade at 292.
“Last week the [University Interscholastic League] reclassification [was finalized] and 1,129 [students] was the cut off for 4A, so we stayed at 4A for two more years,” Hart said. “At this time two years ago we were saying that was our farewell tour, but we’re now 4A again and not the largest because some of the smaller 5As were bumped down. But now this is definitely our farewell tour of 4A. By the time this [junior high] group gets to high school we won’t be in 4A anymore.”
The growth in the school district can mainly be attributed to young families moving to the area and the rapidly increasing subdivision build-outs.
Over the past 12 months, the greater Austin area has seen 15,899 new home starts. That’s a 15.9 increase from the last year—and another record. The biggest driver is employment growth. According to data from the Texas Workforce Commission, the Austin area has added 23,500 new jobs in the last year and annual unemployment in Austin is 2.9 percent.
Low mortgage rates, sitting around 4 percent for several years now, also contribute to the growth. Hart added that every December he hears rates are going up, but they don’t.
“The interest rates have stayed so low for so long that these younger families are able to qualify for more housing at a younger age,” Hart said. “They’re able to step up sooner with younger kids. We’ve got a lot of families that don’t even have school-age kids living in these types of homes, but if interest rates were up to 6, 7 or 8 percent, they wouldn’t be able to do that.”
Hot spot growth areas include Leander leading the charge with 1,641 annual new homes started every year, with a median price of $335,000. East Round Rock and Pflugerville round out the top three hot spots, with 1,317 and 1,040 annual new homes, respectively.
When it comes to pre-owned home sales, there were 154 resales in the school district during the third quarter. There have been 513 sales in the last 12 months with a median resale price of $341,500.
“If your neighbors are changing a lot, here’s proof of it,” Hart said. “Houses are being sold left and right.”
Also in the third quarter, there were 157 new home starts and 188 new home closings in the school district. In comparison, there were 89 closings total in 2010. In the last year, there were 728 new home starts and 583 new home closings, which are up by 246 and 149, respectively—another record. LHISD is currently the 11th most active among all greater Austin area school districts. Leander ISD is No. 1 with 2,471 total home starts over the last 12 months.
“We’re gaining and we’ve passed Dripping Springs and San Marcos, but nobody is producing like Leander ISD is,” Hart said.
In Liberty Hill, Rancho Sienna is leading all other subdivisions with 201 annual starts and 169 closings. Santa Rita South is second with 146 annual starts and 147 closings.
“Last quarter was the first time we had attendance zones divided out,” Hart said. “Seventy-seven percent of new home starts were in Rancho Sienna, and that’s now 82 percent.”
Seventy-one percent of new home closings are located in subdivisions with a base pricing of over $300,000. The school district’s median new home price is $342,996. That’s up 11 percent from last year. In comparison, Austin’s median new home price is $286,456.
When it comes to lot inventory, 214 new lots were delivered in the district in the third quarter. There are currently 1,472 fully developed vacant lots, and 946 under development.
“And here’s the real shocker—the one we need to be concerned about,” said Hart. “There are 10,525 future lots planned in the school district.”
These future lots are located in subdivisions like Stonewall Ranch, Liberty Parke, Terra Del Sol, Santa Rita South, Morningstar and Rancho Sienna.
The report also forecasted a moderate scenario for new home occupancy, which shows the district peaking around 2020-21 at 869 and 856 new builds, respectively, for those years. There is a drop in growth after that, due to Rancho Sienna being fully built out. However, Hart said he doubts the growth will taper off.
“Those numbers are just based on current projections, but chances are that’s not going to happen,” he said.
Student yields in each subdivision vary. Stonewall Ranch and Morningstar each have 1.04 and 1 student per house, respectively, while other subdivisions like Rancho Sienna and Santa Rita have .61 and .66 students per house, respectively. The average across the school district is 0.72 students per household.
The 2017 fall enrollment is estimated to be at 4,066. Three-year projections show an increase of 945 new students in a low growth scenario and 1,394 new students in a moderate growth scenario. District enrollment is projected to surpass 6,000 students in 2022.
“Based on this projection and rate, at Burden we’ll be at capacity in 2023, and at Rancho it’ll be 2019. We built the high school to open in 2013 and wanted to get 10 years out of it. Eight is what we’ll get. In 2021, it’ll be at capacity, too.”
Hart said because of this growth, in 2018, he plans to form a committee to start looking at what can be done to accommodate the school district’s growth in areas where space is running low.