By Rachel Madison
Liberty Hill Independent School District scored an A, or superior, rating on the School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) for 2017 after receiving a B grade in 2016.
This announcement, made during the monthly board of trustees meeting Monday, was based on 2015-2016 audited financial statements. School FIRST is an accountability rating system of the Texas Education Agency that holds school districts accountable for the quality of financial management practices and actual financial performance, said Jennifer Hanna, LHISD’s chief financial officer.
In order to score an A grade, districts must have between 90 and 100 points. LHISD scored a 96. School districts receive points based on 15 indicators designed to assess overall financial health and the competency of the school district’s business operations.
“[LHISD] achieved the maximum amount of points except for on one of the 15 indicators,” Hanna said. “On the ratio of cash on hand to the school district’s operating expenditures we earned six points, which is equal to 64 days. To achieve a total of 10 points, that would have to be 90 days. We improved from the prior year, which was 55 days. We are continuing to focus on improving that ratio.”
LHISD Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart reported on the district’s current enrollment, which is at 4,066. That number is up 400 students from the last day of school in May and up 167 students from the first day of school in August.
“It’s not stopping,” he said, referencing the growth. “It just continues.”
Liberty Hill Intermediate School Principal Josh Curtis presented on the “Model Professional Learning Community (PLC) at Work” award his school received on Nov. 30. This status was awarded to the school by Solution Tree, an Indiana-based education company that provides comprehensive professional development to educators. According to Solution Tree, a PLC tasks educators with focusing on learning, building a collaborative culture and creating a results orientation. LHIS is now one of 17 campuses in Texas and 124 across the United States that holds the distinction.
“We are a globally recognized PLC campus now,” Curtis said. “These teachers have taken our vision to be the best intermediate school in the state and our motto, which is ‘learning today, leading tomorrow,’ to heart and they show that every day in the work they do with the students.”
In other business Monday, LHISD Assistant Superintendent Toni Hicks presented the 2017-2018 District Performance Objectives, which outlined four goals and nine objectives the district is currently working on. Those include helping students to meet or exceed progress measures; improving ongoing communication to effectively support student and educator needs; increasing the amount of time counselors spend promoting a safe, respectful and responsible environment in schools; and ensuring all students have access to up-to-date devices at a two-to-one student-to-device ratio.
The Board unanimously approved the adoption of the 2017-2018 Hazardous Traffic Conditions for Transportation resolution, which allows the district to provide transportation for all LHISD students because of hazardous roadways such as U.S. Highway 183, State Highway 29 and Ronald Reagan Boulevard.
Lance Melton of Huckabee, the architectural firm responsible for designing Rancho Sienna Elementary and renovating other LHISD schools, did a wrap-up presentation on the 2016 $35 million bond package.
“It is amazing what was accomplished in this district since May of 2016,” he said. “In May of 2016 the bond passed successfully and construction started on the first project, Rancho Sienna Elementary, in June 2016. All of the construction projects were completed by August 2017.”
Those projects included the new elementary school, as well as renovations to Liberty Hill Elementary, LHIS and the district’s agricultural facility.
“All projects were completed on time and under budget,” Melton added.
In personnel matters this week, the Board also unanimously approved the addition of a first grade teaching position at Rancho Sienna Elementary.
Bob Mabry, LHISD Human Resources director, requested the addition as a way to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio from 22 to one to 19 to one for the remainder of the school year.
After a 20-minute closed session to discuss personnel and real estate, the Board reconvened. There were no personnel related actions taken during the meeting.
Hart commented on a public information act request made on Dec. 5 by the Texas Monitor, an independent, non-profit, digital-journalism outlet, to every school district in the state of Texas.
“By the end of the 85th Legislative session, it was apparent that public education was under fire the whole session and playing defense the whole time,” Hart said. “To help ourselves there’s been a massive educators’ voting campaign. ‘Get out the Vote’ is being promoted by all the school districts, because if we as educators all vote, it’s a powerful voice. That’s gotten the attention of people who are not friendly to public education, and this is their way of retaliation.”
The request asks all Texas school districts to provide any information or correspondence that the superintendent or district employees have had that contain words and phrases like Republican, Democrat, GOP, dem, get out the vote, GOTV and more. Hart said the school districts are coordinating so they are consistent, and are using an appendix in their policy that gives them guidelines for what they can charge to reproduce such materials.
“That will probably cost $10,000,” he said. “Once we calculate what we can bill them for, we’ll do that. The timeline [of 10 business days to respond] doesn’t start until they pay that money up front.”
Hart suspects the Texas Monitor will not be able to afford the cost or be able to read all the documents each school district could potentially provide.
“It’s really a burden on school districts,” he said. “It’ll be in the media sometime soon, but it’s less than a week ago that this popped up.”
Hart also commented on a $1,000 donation made by Pedernales Electric Co-op as part of its “Bright Lights, Bright Minds” program. This is the second year in a row the co-op has donated $1,000 to LHISD as a way to “support the community and invest in the Hill Country’s future leaders,” said Hart. Plans are underway to use that donation to start up a robotics program at LHJH.
Christmas break for the school district begins Dec. 18 and ends Jan. 3, 2018.
Trustees Scott Lindquist and Vickie Peterson were not present Monday.