Report projects annual average growth rate in student enrollment at 9.6%

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By SHELLY WILKISON

With a reported enrollment of 4,027 as of Monday, the Liberty Hill ISD has already surpassed a projected “moderate growth” model, and district officials are looking ahead to the impact of an average enrollment increase of 9.6 percent annually that could push the total number of students to near 6,000 by 2021.

This week, the Board of Trustees discussed the results of a demographic study for the second quarter of 2017. The report, prepared by the school district’s demographer, School District Strategies, shows a record number of new home starts and closings from April through June, with 228 starts and 184 closings.

The majority of the new home activity took place in Rancho Sienna and Santa Rita South subdivisions, with 79 percent of closings in the past year in the Rancho Sienna Elementary School attendance zone.

Rancho Sienna Elementary opened to students for the first time in August. It was part of a $35 million bond package approved by voters in 2016.

Superintendent Rob Hart said previously that with current projections showing the growth on the east side of the school district, planning will start this fall on another new elementary school. That school, which is likely to be built in the Santa Rita area, could be the subject of a bond election in 2019.

Hart said growth drivers in the Austin area are low unemployment — 3.4 percent — and low mortgage interest rates. For a 30-year mortgage, interest rate was 3.92 percent in July.

“It allows younger people to upgrade or build or afford a higher (priced) home. This (rate) doesn’t look like it’s changing that much,” he said.

Hart said pre-owned home sales are up in the school district. Over the past 12 months, there were 483 resales with 153 during the second quarter.

“But the important thing is median resale price is now $350,000,” he said. The median resale in Williamson County is $286,500 and in the greater Austin area it is $314,000.

“So our values are staying up there,” he said.

The report shows from the third quarter of 2016 through the second quarter this year, there were 713 new home starts and 495 closings. With second quarter numbers 228 and 184, respectively, Hart said it’s a new record for Liberty Hill ISD as the starts rate surpassed 700 units for the first time.

He added that developers delivered 661 new lots over the past 12 months. Those lots, he said, are “ready to go.”

The demographer shows there are .65 students per household.

He said Liberty Hill’s new home market was the 11th most active among all Austin area school districts.

Rancho Sienna saw the most activity in new home sales with 141 closings since third quarter 2016. There are now 450 occupied homes in Rancho Sienna with 657 future lots planned.

Santa Rita Ranch South ranked second in closings at 121. There are 268 homes occupied now with 683 lots planned.

“The eastern side of the district is where it’s exploding,” Hart said.

Also worth noting in the report is that 62 percent of new home closings are located in subdivisions that have base pricing over $300,000.

According to the report, 9,338 future lots are planned in the school district. As of June, there were 891 new single-family lots under development.

Hart said the district is projected to average 690 new homes per year over the next three years with the potential to see almost 3,800 occupied over the next five years. It’s a scenario the demographer called “moderate” and projects that “annual closings may not taper off in 2022 if more development occurs.

In the end, the housing activity presents a forecast for LHISD enrollment. Districtwide, a new home is yielding an average .65 students. Under the moderate growth scenario, the projected net growth over three years is 1,155 new students and 4,467 in 10 years.

Hart said the first day of school enrollment was 3,899, which is 128 students fewer than this week’s enrollment of 4,027. The district is up 361 students over the last day of school in May.

“We’re already in the process of looking to see what we can do for the next several years. We know we’ll have to continue to look at classroom space and more schools,” Hart said.

Trustee Clint Stephenson asked if the district had access to projected home values in the high producing subdivisions. He said he thought it is important to know the projected taxable value as officials chart a course for building additional schools.

“We’re about to go to everybody and say we need some more schools, reach into their checkbook, so we need to know what our budget is for those schools so we’re not overspending,” said Stephenson.

The discussion preceded another informational item from Hart regarding out of district transfer students and the district’s open enrollment policy. (See story here.)

Following an hour-long executive session, the Board approved the employment of six new teachers at the elementary level. The new positions were approved by trustees in August as a result of enrollment growth and the need to comply with state-mandated student-teacher ratio of 22-1 through fourth grade.

Approved for employment Monday were Jennifer Robinson, 3rd grade at Bill Burden Elementary; Susan Brew, kindergarten at Bill Burden; Cathy Masciana, 4th grade at Bill Burden; Katrina Hogue, 2nd grade at Rancho Sienna; Beverly Owen, 3rd grade at Rancho Sienna; and Diana Arth, 4th grade at Rancho Sienna.

In other business Monday, Trustees approved:
– Evolution Dance as a commercial off-campus PE substitution for the current school year
– An Adjunct Faculty Agreement with AgriLife Extension-Williamson County and a resolution for extracurricular status of 4-H members. The agreement allows local students to receive credit for participating in livestock shows.
– New meeting dates in November and February 2018 to allow for district holidays. Instead the regular meeting date of the third Monday, Trustees will meet Nov. 13 and Feb. 12, 2018.

Aso this week, Trustees heard an annual report on the district’s ESL (English as a Second Language) and Migrant programs.

Also Monday, FFA students made a presentation to the Board, thanking them for improvements to the Agriculture Barn at Liberty Hill Junior High. The facility was part of a bond package approved by voters in 2016.

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