Usual demographic message to LHISD has a twist

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Numbers were flying at the Liberty Hill ISD School Board meeting Monday, and while the message from demographers didn’t stray from the usual subject of eminent growth, it did hint at potential acceleration.

The recent announcement of a new Apple Campus expected to employ over 5,000, and more moderately-priced new home starts in the area mean the faster pace of growth might be sustained.

“We’ve had to accelerate our housing forecast some due to the influx of starter homes and the announcement from Apple,” said Brent Alexander, of School District Strategies. “I think what you are looking at is a gradual increase toward 1,200 closings a year.”

Recent data shows the acceleration.

“One of the things I wanted to emphasize tonight, is the year over year growth numbers that are at 13 percent, that represents an accelerated growth rate compared to what we’ve seen since 2010,” Alexander said. “The district’s total enrollment climbed to a record-high last October of 4,384. If you go back, since 2008, that’s a net growth of over 1,900 students.”

At the end of 2018, the school district’s total population was 17,994, with 6,196 total households. Those numbers represent a 123 percent and 13.7 percent increase over the previous year, which is a steep increase over the 8.5 percent annual increase since 2010.

While it is not anticipated that growth will continue at the 13-percent pace, the annual rate over the next five years is expected to be around 10 percent.

Total enrollment in the district is 4,384, with all but three classes from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade reaching record size.

“If you look at elementary, intermediate and junior high, all of those attendance levels are up 29 to 33 percent over the last three years,” Alexander said. “High school is up 12 percent, but the majority of the growth that has occurred here recently has been at the younger grades.”

So far, the growth is predominately seen in the far eastern ends of the district. Since 2016, the total number of district students residing in the Rancho Sienna attendance zone has increased 62 percent, followed by a 15 percent increase in the Bill Burden zone. Liberty Hill Elementary’s attendance zone has remained flat.

“The drivers within the district are those subdivisions mainly located within the Rancho Sienna attendance zone,” Alexander said.

Across the district in the fourth quarter, starts were down from the previous quarter, but outpaced the same quarter last year with 250 and 218 closings.

“That’s the most fourth-quarter starts we’ve ever counted and it is also the first time there have been more than 200 occupancies in a single quarter,” Alexander said. “The last 12 months have produced record starts and closings in the district.”

Alexander also noted that the number of transfer students attending Liberty Hill schools decreased for the second consecutive year to 393. That’s down from 438 in 2017 and 505 in 2016.

In terms of home prices, the Liberty Parke subdivision is building more moderately-priced homes as it introduces new phases, with 566 homes anticipated at buildout.

“When you look at the median home price, values are not declining in greater Austin, but what this represents is the market has shifted to more moderately-priced homes that are in the $200,000 to $400,000 price range,” Alexander said. “The homes that have been built in the district over the last four to five years have been in that moderate to high-end price range that is generally $300,000 to $750,000. What we’re seeing is more homes being started that are under $300,000 and those represent the starter and first move-up houses in subdivisions such as Liberty Parke where DR Horton has introduced their express homes product.”

While this trend is expected to continue, there are questions being raised about new growth coming on the west end of the district such as the new Butler development.

“One of the things we are going to have to watch is the timeline for subdivisions planned on the west side,” Alexander said. “How long will it take to get the water and sewer lines out there and get that up and running, then how long does it take for the builders to get comfortable purchasing positions out in those subdivisions? The timeline for those out west seems to be accelerating and we may have to move some of that up in the forecast. Right now I think you are still a minimum of three years away on a subdivision like Butler Ranch.”

New home starts and closings are signs of what is happening immediately within the district, but another number shows Liberty Hill may outpace much of Central Texas soon.

In a look at 20 school districts across Central Texas, Liberty Hill ranked 11th in new home closings from 2016 to 2018, but looking ahead at the number of lots currently under development, Liberty Hill ranks second only to Leander with 1,475.

“That 1,475 is a record for us to count here in the district,” Alexander said. “It is just an incredible number. This is representative of the builders and developers recognizing the increasing demand as well as announcements such as the new Apple Campus.”

Projections show the district could see an additional 5,600 homes by 2023 before annual occupancy totals begin to decline, though projections still show between 700 and 1,100 annual closings through 2028. Alexander said the same factors driving the acceleration today could change those future projections as well.

“This is a fluid situation you all need to be aware of as demand and momentum continues there are going to be more sellers out there to try and take advantage of the market conditions,” he said.

Police chief search
The district has begun its search for a police chief, recently posting the job in hopes of having a candidate to present at the March board meeting, according to Superintendent Steve Snell.

The hiring timetable is set so the district can hopefully have its police department in place when school starts in August.

“We’re going to go out and get the best candidate that applies,” Snell said. “There’s a sense of urgency with school safety. We want that person yesterday. But it has to be the right fit.”

Part of that right fit is having someone who not only fills that police role, but understands how it fits into the educational environment.

“Being a police officer and being a school police officer have two totally different ways to approach your job,” he said. “Leadership, experience and personality are going to be the three big factors.

“That police officer in dealing with students is going to have to wear many different hats. How you approach and provide educational support and protection to an elementary child is different than a middle school child and different than a high school child. Finding that perfect fit is going to be difficult.”

Snell added that the district is working to make sure the job posting is reaching the right audience and bringing in as many quality candidates as possible.

2019-2020 calendar
It is time to make Spring Break plans for 2020. The School Board unanimously approved the LHISD calendar for the 2019-2020 school year.

The first day of school will be Aug. 14 and the last day will be May 21 with graduation on May 22.

Key breaks in the schedule include Spring Break March 16-20, Thanksgiving week Nov. 25-29 and the Christmas break from Dec. 20 through Jan. 6.

Teachers return to work Aug. 5.

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