LHISD to add 11 buses

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

With more than 3,000 students now hopping on the big yellow school bus before and after school every day in Liberty Hill ISD, a solution to the need for more and newer buses could not have come at a better time.

The solution was a grant, known as the Texas Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Grant, that is saving the school district $738,000 on the purchase or 75 percent of the purchase price.

The diesel buses cost $99,997 each.

“A couple of months ago we talked about the fact that Texas opened up a grant that we could apply for and (Director of Transportation) Meleia (Cox) jumped on it and we got the full amount that we applied for,” said Superintendent Steve Snell. “So we’ve gone ahead and have purchased those buses. These buses are a little higher capacity than our other buses and they come with seatbelts,” Snell said.

The intent is for these 10 new buses to replace aging buses in the district.

In addition to the buses purchased through the grant, the district is buying one more bus at the $99,997 price to begin slowly adding to the stretched bus fleet.

“Due to our student growth and increase in our student riders, we’re approximately six buses short by our estimation,” Snell said. “We obviously don’t have money in the budget to buy six buses immediately, but we did budget this year for one additional bus and we’ll plan for additional purchases as well.”

Expanded technology
When school started last year, the high school issued Chromebooks to all incoming freshmen through its new 1:1 Program. This year, those same students have been issued those computers as sophomores and the district has purchased a new round of the laptop computers for the new class of freshmen.

This year’s crop of laptops issued will also include students participating in the OnRamps program.

“A lot of the coursework (for OnRamps) is online because obviously there is no professor here, so we’re going to help them out. It is beneficial for them to have their own device to use, not only in the classroom but outside of school to do homework, so we’re incorporating them in this as well,” said Chief Technology Officer Jay Olivier

The district chose to purchase 2-in-1 Chromebooks, which function like a traditional laptop as well as a tablet.

“That was based on information we got from surrounding school districts and
feedback we’d gotten from teachers and students that had been using the devices in the classrooms,” Olivier said. “They specifically valued that functionality, to have touchscreens and be able to use the device more like a tablet when that’s appropriate.”

The district saw very few issues in terms of maintenance and repair needs after the first year of the program.

“We check them out like a textbook,” Olivier said. “We went with that last year as a trial to see how everything works and we actually had two devices that we had to do significant repairs to out of the entire freshman class. That’s a pretty low rate of breakage.”

Olivier added that students tended to take better care of the computers issued to them specifically over ones for classroom only use because they had a sense of ownership.

The district hopes to add a new class next year, and perhaps even two, which would put a laptop in the hands of every student at the high school. Eventually, Olivier said, the district is looking at what it would look like to expand into lower grades as well.

“This allows us to ensure every kid has access to the same technology inside the classroom and out of it,” Olivier said.

The Chromebooks purchased by the district this year will be supported by Google through software updates through the 2025-2026 school year, but Olivier said those devices would probably not be meeting the district’s needs by that time. He said four to five years is the likely maximum lifespan of the devices.

The reason for the initiative is simple for Olivier.

“At the end of the day technology is part of these kids’ lives,” Olivier said. “If we don’t incorporate it into what they’re doing as far as learning is concerned then they’ll be handicapped when they get past us. It gets them ready for the real world in every job we have, no matter what that is.”

Sick leave bank
The Board heard a proposal to create a sick leave bank for the district that would allow participating employees to donate days and then be eligible for additional sick leave in the event of a catastrophic illness.

“This has been discussed in the district before, but when I did my community survey in February a response I got from several people was to please look into a sick-leave bank so we’ve been looking into that,” Snell said.

Director of Human Resources Bobby Mabry headed a district-wide committee that researched the issue and put together a proposal for board consideration. By looking at the policy in other districts the committee was able to identify common practices and differences that had to be considered.

“One thing that everybody does is once you contribute a day you don’t get it back,” Mabry said. “But there were a lot of differences in how many days you had to give to be a member, and whether it was just employee, or employee and family or employee and immediate family.”

The idea was popular among respondents to a survey on the issue.

“We sent a survey to the staff to see if they did indeed support the idea and we got 228 responses back and 85.5 percent of the responses said if we had a sick leave bank they’d be a part of it,” Mabry said. “I feel like we’ll get a better participation once it’s actually there.”

Participation would be voluntary, with employees being required to donate one day to participate.

Employees would be eligible to apply for days if experiencing medically certifiable catastrophic illness, which is outlined in board policy to define exactly what that is. The proposed policy also defined eligibility as including such illness to a spouse or children.

A request for days would be submitted on a form and the committee would then determine how many days to be granted, with a maximum of 20 per event and 60 for the person’s employment with LHISD. Names of applicants would be removed before being considered by the committee to maintain confidentiality.

If an employee chooses to end their participation, all days previously donated would be forfeited, but an employee could rejoin during the open-enrollment period.

The Board is expected to consider approval of the policy at its October meeting.

New additions
The district added three new employees at the Monday meeting including teacher and coach Howdy Byars who is replacing Josh Blake; dyslexia and special education teacher Jill Graef; and Lauren Rocha, a new teacher at Rancho Sienna Elementary.

Resignations included Nadene Hanna, Carley Pilgrim and Brittany Turner.

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