LHISD Trustees revisit discussion on costs vs. benefits of accepting out-of-district students

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By SHELLY WILKISON

While a decision on whether the Liberty Hill school district will accept transfer students in 2018-2019 is not expected until May, school trustees on Monday discussed the pros and cons with a school finance expert from Region 12.

Nick Brown, a retired school superintendent and current school finance specialist at Region 12 Education Service Center in Waco, presented documents comparing the financial impact on the LHISD with transfers, without transfers, and with transfers limited to employees’ children. Trustees looked at projections through fiscal 2020.

Monday’s discussion was similar to one held in September 2017 when comparable numbers were presented by local school district officials. On both occasions, the fundamental question from trustees was whether it is cost effective to continue to allow transfer students. Elected officials wanted to know whether the costs of educating out-of-district students are higher than the revenue they generate from the State. And they ask the question in the context of LHISD’s fast growth status with another bond election anticipated for 2019.

At the end of October 2017, there were 380 out-of-district students attending Liberty Hill schools, according to Brown’s report.

LHISD has always maintained an open enrollment policy. Students apply for admission and readmission every year. At the elementary level, they are assigned to schools where space is available with consideration given to the demographics of students at each campus. They don’t pay tuition.

According to the numbers supplied by Brown, the district’s total state and local revenue for Maintenance & Operations in the current fiscal year is $30,293,604, which includes the allotment the state provides per student. Without transfer students, revenue this year would be $2,395,014 less.

A third scenario was presented that admitted only employees’ children, which is presently 105 out-of-district students. Under that scenario, the district would see $1,728,184 less state aid than the current $30,293,604.

Board members did additional math during the meeting to show what appeared to be the cost per student.

“Think of it as an expense (to educate each child),” said Trustee Jeff Madison. “It takes $7,694 per student to run a break even (budget) to educate. With 3,626 kids living in district, but we allow kids from out of district to come in and we only get $6,302 (per student).”

“I’m not sure that’s exactly the way you want to look at it, but yes,” Brown responded.

“We need to know what we get and what we spend,” said Trustee Clint Stephenson.

Administrators say that accepting transfer students without tuition continues to work in Liberty Hill’s favor financially. Charging tuition, they say, would inch them closer to Chapter 41 recapture status whereby the district would have to use local property tax revenue to pay the State when it reaches a property value per weighted average daily attendance (WADA) of $514,000. Currently, the number is $362,614. Projections provided by Brown show that without transfer students, the district could reach the recapture status sooner, but not before fiscal 2020.

Liberty Hill ISD is considered a “gap district” now in that its property value is in the range of Chapter 41, but below the $514,000 trigger.

Superintendent Rob Hart has stated repeatedly that the district’s Chapter 41 status is at the center of the financial discussion on whether or not to accept transfer students. He said if the district charges them tuition, they don’t count toward offsetting the high property value.

Brown estimated that the district could reach recapture status in eight years if continues to accept out-of-district students. If the open enrollment policy ends, it could be seven years.

“In all three of these scenarios, it’s wealth growing at 15 percent, WADA growing at 10 percent, the recapture horizon is out there. It’s just about how far off do you want it to be,” said Brown.

TAPR Public Hearing
A public hearing on the Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR) for 2016-2017 academic year provided trustees with detailed information about student performance on state assessments, enrollment demographics, graduation rate, participation in advanced courses and dual credit courses at the high school level, college enrollment, a report on violent or criminal incidents, and district financial information for the year prior.

School districts are required to produce the report annually and make it available to the public.

During the presentation, the most discussion involving trustees was on the topic of high school student participation in advanced courses and classes that can be taken for dual college credit.

“It (the report) tells me our kids are not taking advanced courses to completion as high as the region or the state. And it tells me in what content area our kids are more likely to take an advanced course, and that’s math,” said Dr. Toni Hicks, assistant superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction.

“I’m surprised by this,” said Madison. “I’m disappointed that we’re so much lower than the state.”

Hicks said a number of students are enrolled in Onramps for dual credit with the University of Texas in pre-calculus, and the school district is looking to add more Onramps courses. The course is taught by a LHHS teacher as opposed to other dual credit courses taught by Austin Community College instructors.

“When you bring in an instructor from an outside college and they don’t understand the culture of the campus, it’s certainly more advantageous for a student to have an LHISD instructor who understands our culture, and understands the needs of a high school student as opposed to a college student,” she said.

Personnel matters
The Board also unanimously approved the creation of a teaching position in pre-kindergarten at Rancho Sienna Elementary.

Human Resources Director Bobby Mabry said although state law does not limit the number of students per teacher in pre-kindergarten classrooms, there is a “natural limit” on the number of four-year olds a teacher can manage. The number per class at Rancho Sienna, the district’s newest elementary campus that opened this school year, is averaging 25.

Following a 20-minute executive session, the Board approved the employment of Brittany Gordy as a 1st Grade teacher at Rancho Sienna; Shannon Quaife-Johnson as a Special Education teacher at Liberty Hill Intermediate; and Kate Abbott as an English teacher at Liberty Hill High School replacing Beverly Salter, who retired in December.

In other business, the Board approved a good financial audit report on 2016-2017 fiscal year from the firm of Singleton, Clark & Co. The report showed no findings, and the firm made no recommendations for improvements.

The Board also approved a Joint Election Agreement with the City of Liberty Hill for the school board election May 5, and adopted an order calling for the election.

Places 3, 4 and 5 on the Board of Trustees will be decided by Liberty Hill ISD voters. Currently serving in those seats are David Nix (Place 3), Jeff Madison (Place 4); and Anthony Buck (Place 5). Trustees serve three-year terms.

The next meeting of the Board of Trustees will be at 6 p.m. Feb. 12. The meeting date was moved up one week from the normally scheduled third Monday each month due to a school holiday on Feb. 19.

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