LHISD moving forward with SROs, random drug testing, before and after-school child care
By SHELLY WILKISON
Liberty Hill school trustees on Monday authorized administrators to develop plans for a school resource officer program and random drug testing for high school students.
Both safety initiatives are anticipated to be in place by the start of school on August 15.
Since March, administrators and trustees have been discussing options for creating a law enforcement presence on the district’s six campuses — three of which are outside the city limits. Research showed the more costly option would be to create a Liberty Hill ISD Police Department, while implementing a School Resource Officer (SRO) program through a partnership with an existing law enforcement agency would be less expensive.
On Monday, administrators recommended the Board authorize them to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Liberty Hill utilizing two Liberty Hill police officers to serve as SROs for the school district.
Assistant Superintendent Chad Pirtle said he and Superintendent Rob Hart had been meeting with Mayor Rick Hall and Police Chief Maverick Campbell about the possibilities, and both administrators were confident that this arrangement would best serve the district “at this time.”
“I met with Mayor Rick Hall and he expressed his desire and commitment to partnering with the district by providing SRO services. I’ve had multiple meetings with Chief Campbell, and Dr. Hart and I also had a recent meeting with Chief Campbell to discuss details about what his department could provide to the school district,” Pirtle said. “We talked about details with regards to hiring and staffing, vehicles, responsibilities, costs, implementation timelines, communication, among other topics. We believe this is the best option for our district at this time.”
In the first draft of the school district’s budget for 2018-2019 presented to trustees Monday, $100,000 was allocated for school law enforcement.
Pirtle said preliminary conversations with Hall and Campbell “have the partnership coming in fiscally at a good place for the district” although no specifics regarding those conversations were revealed.
According to estimates provided by City of Liberty Hill Finance Director Michel Sorrell to The Independent on Tuesday, the cost of one police officer including an average base salary plus taxes and benefits is about $68,000. This does not include the costs associated with gear, equipment, fuel, vehicles or maintenance.
“I believe at some point in the future, we will transition to a police department,” Pirtle said. “We will constantly monitor the program, the costs, the services, the relationships, among other things, to ensure that the SRO program is the most appropriate and beneficial to keeping our students and staff safe.”
In response to questions from individual board members, Pirtle said the MOU, which he said would be negotiated Thursday and taken to Council for consideration on Monday, would include language allowing for the district to have input into the hiring process, the vehicles used by the officers, the assignments and duties of the officers. The document would also outline the costs to both entities and the ownership of the assets.
Trustee Clint Stephenson asked whether the vehicles used by the SROs would be equivalent to a fully-equipped patrol vehicle.
“I’m assuming we will be absorbing the bulk of the cost of that. We probably don’t need the same caliber of transportation they do to do their job. Do we have input into that?” Stephenson asked.
“In talking to our police chief and our mayor, we do have input into that and it is a good deal. What has been described to us is a good deal,” Pirtle said. “It may not be a brand new police car, but it is a vehicle that will serve the needs of our SROs.”
Pirtle stressed that any agreement is contingent on the City agreeing to partner with the school district.
He also said any agreement would include an exit clause that would allow the district to end the agreement with 90 days notice.
Because the high school, Bill Burden Elementary and Rancho Sienna Elementary are outside the city’s jurisdiction, Pirtle said a separate MOU will have to be developed between the City and Williamson County Sheriff’s Office to define how cases on those campuses are handled.
“There is a cost factor for the City for that, and that’s something we will work out and present to the Council at the meeting Monday,” Hall told The Independent. “We really don’t know until we get down to the brass tacks on the cost and what it’s going to be, and to see if it is something the city is ready to move forward with.
“I think in the timing that it happened, it all happened pretty much with everyone all on the same page and I really don’t know who started the discussion,” Hall added. “It just seemed like everyone was all on the same page about moving forward with it.”
Also Monday, Board members authorized the administration to draft a policy regarding random drug testing of Liberty Hill High School students who participate in UIL sports and academics, as well as those who have a parking permit.
LHHS Principal Mario Bye recommended the test look for amphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and opiates, and he is currently working with potential vendors to develop the program.
He said 25 students per month would be selected randomly by the testing company for a urine test, with each test costing $14 for the five-drug panel. The testing would be conducted from seven to nine times per year, and details regarding callback tests will be determined.
Bye said students who test positive for drugs would be ineligible for competition or parking privileges until a negative test is produced. He added that the timeline for ineligibility would be determined before the Board finally approves the policy in July.
“The overall purpose of a testing program is to help enforce a drug-free educational environment, deter illegal drug use and educate students about the harmful effects of drug use,” Bye said.
He said those who test positive would have access to counseling.
In a preliminary budget proposal presented Monday, $10,000 was allocated for the program.
Before and after school care
In response to concerns from working parents about a new policy that stops school buses from dropping off or picking up students at private child care businesses, LHISD administrators have developed a plan to provide before and after-school child care beginning in August.
Currently, Bill Burden and Rancho Sienna elementary schools have a partnership with YMCA to provide after-school care, and that will continue. Pirtle said Liberty Hill’s program will be modeled after that one, but will utilize LHISD staff.
Before-school care will be offered to students in grades kindergarten through fifth at Bill Burden Elementary beginning at 6 a.m. Buses will shuttle students to their respective campuses by class time.
After-school care will be added to Liberty Hill Elementary, and the costs for morning and afternoon care will be comparable to what parents currently pay for YMCA after-school programs, Pirtle said, so that the program pays for itself without being subsidized by the district.
Pirtle said there is no student limit at this time.
“We don’t want to skimp and not have a good program,” he said, adding that he anticipates two people working the before-school shift, with the possibility of up to 20 students per person.
He said the staff is currently discussing possible activities for students, but parents should not expect the extended care programs to be an extension of the school day where students would be engaged in instructional activity by teachers.
He said parents will be notified of the new program in the coming weeks via the school district’s School Messenger, through the website at www.LibertyHill.txed.net, and social media.
Also this week, the Board adopted a resolution accepting the donation of 14.36 acres by Ed and Elizabeth Horne at Santa Rita Ranch South for purposes of building a school that will be named Santa Rita Elementary or some variation of that.
When fully developed, Santa Rita South and North will have 6,500 homes — about 4,000 of which will be in the Liberty Hill ISD.
The Hornes, who are recognized for their many contributions to public education and the Liberty Hill community, were present Monday and shared their commitment to LHISD.
“We are honored to be investing in Liberty Hill,” he said. “Education is a passion of ours and we have a passion for making a difference in kids’ lives.”
The school district is expected to come to voters with a bond proposal in November to build a new elementary school, among other possible construction projects. Hart has stated previously that Santa Rita is the likely location for the campus considering it is in the highest growth area of the school district.
This spring, the Hornes contributed $10,000 to LHISD as part of their efforts to contribute to both LHISD and Georgetown ISD — $1,000 for every lot sold.
In personnel matters this week, the Board approved the creation of four new positions directly attributed to growth in enrollment.
One new elementary physical education position was added, an additional culinary arts teaching position was created at the high school, a Solid Roots position was added at Liberty Hill Junior High, and an intervention position was created at Bill Burden.
Following an executive session, the Board accepted the following resignations:
Maria Burks, teacher at Bill Burden; Terri Cole, teacher at the high school; Laura Davis, teacher at the Intermediate; Mary Davis, teacher at Bill Burden; Angela de los Santos, teacher at Rancho Sienna; Bonnie Dortch, teacher at the high school; Brittni Fausett, teacher/coach at the high school; Jerry Foster, teacher at the Intermediate; Robin Graham, diagnostician; Melissa McWherter, teacher at the high school; Monica Miller, student support specialist at the high school; Marlo Saunders, teacher/coach at the high school; Patricia Simpson, district GT coordinator; and Atrisha Young, teacher at the high school.
New employees approved include the following: Shanda Bates, special education ILS teacher at Bill Burden; Melanie Bivone, dance teacher at the junior high; Rachel Bottoms, junior high librarian; Heather Brooks, diagnostician; Kimberly Conrad, high school teacher; Christopher Cormack, ESL teacher at Bill Burden; Dayna Doan, LifeSkills teacher at the high school; Philip Dodd, teacher at the high school; Benete Doerr, teacher at the Intermediate; Maria Gonzales, teacher at Bill Burden; Paige Hintz, teacher at Rancho Sienna; Susie Kemper, teacher at the high school; Marie Layne, fine arts teacher at junior high; Jessica Lorence, teacher at Rancho Sienna; Julie Montgomery, science teacher at the Intermediate; Angel Noble, special education teacher at junior high; Ricky Prescott, agriculture teacher at the high school; Taylor Sanner, teacher at the high school; Tania Santiago, Spanish teacher at junior high; Amanda Trapani, teacher at junior high; Andrea Vineyard, teacher at Bill Burden; Desiree Wells, teacher at junior high; and Susanne Winkley, diagnostician.
LHISD Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Hanna presented a budget update and a detailed analysis on the district’s bonded indebtedness on Monday.
Look for more information on the school district’s proposed budget in the June 28 edition of The Independent.
Trustee Anthony Buck was not present Monday.