By SHELLY WILKISON
District officials say it’s still in the best financial interest of Liberty Hill ISD to continue accepting students from other school districts without charging them a fee.
Superintendent Rob Hart recommended school trustees waive a fee or tuition for transfers for the 2017-2018 school year. After some discussion, trustees unanimously approved the waiver.
Hart explained that LHISD’s equalized wealth level per student is at $362,614 based on last year’s property values. At that level, the district falls into a “gap” where it surpasses the Chapter 41 “wealthy district level” of $319,500 per student, but is under $514,000 — at which point the district would have to pay the state recapture funds.
The formula is all part of a complicated school finance system developed in 1990 as a way to equalize funding between wealthy and poor school districts, commonly referred to as the “Robin Hood” plan.
A preliminary report shows property values increased by $353 million in the school district this year. Although the number will not be certified until July, Hart said it could take “a couple more years” of significant increases like this one to inch Liberty Hill ISD closer to a decision regarding charging transfers or closing the district to them.
“If we didn’t take transfers or if we charged tuition for them, we would be at $411,429 per student,” he said. While the number would still be about $100,000 less than the recapture level, Hart said if property values continue to increase as expected, the gap will close.
“The more students you have to divide the property value by, the lower your number comes in,” Hart explained.
In addition to revenue generated from property taxes, the school district receives state funding based on Average Daily Attendance. Hart said the district receives about $5,500 from the state per student. With about 400 transfer students, that’s an estimated $2.2 million in ADA funding.
“As long as it continues to help us (to accept transfer students without a fee) and not cause a problem with crowding as well, then we (administration) will continue to recommend taking them,” he said.
Hart noted that the action on transfers is a decision made by the Board in May each year. The decision is made annually for the coming school year.
Students seeking to transfer into the school district must apply for consideration and go through an interview process. Hart said the final decision is made based on attendance, behavior and grades at the current school. LHISD does not provide transportation out of district and students are assigned to a campus without regard to convenience. He added that most students seeking to transfer in are at the elementary grade levels.
“The most common question I get asked is whether we’re going to close the district,” said Trustee Jeff Madison.
“There’s no guarantee,” Hart responded. “There will come a time, but it isn’t now.”
Clint Stephenson, who was recently elected to the Board and was installed Monday, asked if district officials knew the actual costs of educating one student in LHISD.
Hart said that number would not be easy to calculate because it would vary greatly based on the services children receive, but estimated that it would be less than the target revenue ($5,500 per student).
Hart said that many of the transfer students are children of school district employees. He said 54 percent of employees live in the district, but those who do not frequently request to have their children in LHISD.
In other business Monday, the Board approved the creation of three new teaching positions.
An additional choir teacher will be assigned to work with Junior High and Intermediate School choir programs. In the fall, choir will be added at the Intermediate campus.
Currently, the district has one choir instructor based at the high school, who in the coming school year will also be teaching a new class — music theory.
A new position for a STRIVE or gifted and talented teacher will be added at the elementary level. Currently, there is only one STRIVE teacher for the district.
Also created was a position for a conversational Spanish teacher for Liberty Hill Elementary School.
Human Resources Directory Bobby Mabry explained that the district had reached the state threshold of 20 limited English proficient student in one grade level this year. As a result, in fall 2018, if the numbers remain, LHISD will have to create a dual language program.
“We have a one year grace period after we meet that number,” added Hart.
In a dual language program, a class would have native Spanish speakers combined with non-speakers.
The Board also voted to make a change to the calendar for the next school year. The official calendar was approved in April, but administrators changed a bad weather day from April 23 to March 30 — the Friday before Easter holiday.
Newly-elected trustees Clint Stephenson and Vickie Peterson took the oath of office Monday after the Board canvassed and accepted election returns. The new trustees participated in Monday’s meeting.
Outgoing Trustee Mike Bowles, who chose not to seek reelection to Place 1, was presented with a plaque of appreciation.
The Board reorganized itself, but re-elected Clay Cole as President. Cole ran unopposed for the Place 2 seat this month.
David Nix was elected Vice President of the Board, and Scott Lindquist was elected Secretary. Lindquist was not present Monday.
Trustees also heard a report from the contractor working on Rancho Sienna Elementary School, as well as renovations to the Agriculture Barn at Liberty Hill Junior High, that all work was progressing on schedule. Construction projects at Liberty Hill Elementary and Intermediate schools will commence when school ends.
Following a closed session Monday, the Board approved the resignations of Jake DeBose, high school res. math; Jaycee Thompson, high school agriculture; Jacob Jones, high school American Sign Language; Meggie Davis, 6th grade ELA; Laurie Houston, kindergarten; Julie Wright, thrid grade and Suzie Neuenschwander, third grade.
The Board approved the employment of the following: John Harris, high school theatre arts; Lara Chapman, high school counselor; Matthew Donello, athletic trainer; Travis Hawthorne, high school culinary arts; Jennifer Coates, fourth grade at Rancho Sienna; Courtney Pyle, kindergarten at Rancho Sienna; Debbie Clifton, kindergarten at Rancho Sienna; Christy Tucker, special education at Rancho Sienna; Caleb Martin, music at Rancho Sienna; Marcy Mueller, IT technologist at LH Elementary; Mary Lou Lively, special education resource at LH Elementary; Dawn Hudson as assistant principal at Intermediate; Samantha Eller, special education at Bill Burden Elementary; April Goudeau, kindergarten at Burden; Misty Bergeron, behavior teacher at LHJH; Lesley Havelka, PE at Burden; and Natalie Rodel, fourth grade at Burden.