See full size pdf of proposed attendance zones: Liberty Hill Proposed Zones 1-27-17 (1)
By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
School administrators advised against an earlier plan to re-shuffle fifth grade downward into the elementary system last week in a board meeting presentation.
In light of the new “community schools” model, which will sift the elementary school population into one of three campuses beginning in August, it was thought that moving fifth grade down, limiting Intermediate School to sixth grade, would give campuses more room to grow.
Not so, said projections by the school district’s demographers shown by Assistant Superintendent Chad Pirtle at a board meeting Feb. 8, and it would actually lead to overcapacity much quicker.
The recommendation to keep elementary schools capped at fourth grade came out of an analysis to design the geographic zones determining which campus a student will attend.
Currently, elementary school is taught in two successive campuses: Pre-K through first grade at Liberty Hill Elementary, and Bill Burden Elementary for second through fourth grade. After construction is complete at Rancho Sienna Elementary, students will attend all of the elementary grades at one of these three campuses.
In the administration’s zoning map, students living to the east of US Highway 183, and north of a line drawn just below its intersection with RR 1869, will be tied into Rancho Sienna Elementary. Bill Burden will serve students west of Hwy 183 and above State Highway 29, with the addition of much of downtown. The rest of downtown, and students living south of SH 29, will attend Liberty Hill Elementary.
The idea, said Pirtle, is not for students to attend whatever campus is closest, but which makes the most sense given transportation routes.
“We don’t want kids to drive by a school to get to their campus,” he said.
Transfer students would not necessarily go to the school closest to them, but be placed to help even the schools out.
An initial map, which divided the attendance zones more simply by the highways, was found to come into conflict with the planner’s goals. The first for equity, in racial and economic groups, across the campuses. The second goal was to delay the school’s next bond election for more school facilities as long as possible.
The administration originally planned to move fifth grade down so that sixth grade would be taught by itself at the Intermediate campus. This was to divide the student population by more traditional grade lines, and to allow the Intermediate school more available capacity to grow.
Administrators decided to advise against the plan to the board after examining demographic analysis.
“It really opened our eyes,” Pirtle said. “When you first look at this [plan], it looks okay.” Pirtle then pointed to a map of the district. “Each dot represents where a student lives.”
The plan grouping fifth grade into the elementary system would have seen the Intermediate school at 33 percent capacity, but by 2020, the elementary schools would be already over capacity. The district would need to hold another bond election in 2018, which would be only two years after the school’s last bond election.
“That concerned us a bit,” he said.
By contrast, leaving fifth grade in the Intermediate School would bump the capacity usage of that campus to 67 percent, but reduce growth in the elementary school system.
This, it’s believed, would let the school delay its next bond election until 2020 or so, when the same capacity limits would begin to appear.
Growth in the district is expected to continue at an 8 percent increase every year.
In the next few years, Pirtle said that his group expects to need another junior high and at least one more elementary school. The high school may also need another wing, said Superintendent Rob Hart.
According to numbers from the end of 2016’s third quarter, 1,291 lots in Liberty Hill ISD were fully developed and vacant, ready for sale. 628 were under construction. And roughly 9,500 lots were already planned for development.
With the exception of a few older grades and Pre-K, every class has had record sizes this year.
Pirtle stressed however, that the plan is “tentative, we’re not making a decision or anything” and that while the plan “isn’t the plan, it’s close to perfect.”
The board expects to move forward with a plan by Feb. 23.