2016 another record year for growth



There was “nothing different, nothing unusual or surprising” in the 2016 fourth quarter demographic report, but Liberty Hill ISD Superintendent Rob Hart has grown accustomed to seeing quarterly housing reports showing construction and sales activity, and population on the rise.

A report compiled by School District Strategies of Dallas, the firm retained by the school district to monitor housing trends and project student enrollment, showed that by
2026, LHISD may have more than 7,000 students — more than double today’s enrollment.

Hart said the 8.9 percent growth rate is arrived at by projections showing 500 new homes on the ground in the school district per year for the next three years.

“That’s about .65 students per home or 357 new students per year at that rate,” he said.

Residential growth in LHISD is on a fast track to push enrollment up to almost 4,000 students by November, the report states.

During Monday’s regular school board meeting, Hart directed trustees’ attention to a chart showing new home construction starts and closings for the past eight years.

“This gives us a good overall picture of where we are,” he said. “To put it (the growth) in perspective, in 2008, we had 65 new home starts for the whole calendar year. In 2016, we saw 563. That’s huge.”

He noted there were only 17 closings in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to 93 at the same time in 2016.

Overall, Hart said the activity shows a “healthy gap between new home delivery and new home starts. What you don’t want to see is a huge gap between starts and closings. That’s what happened in 2008 and 2009 when there were lots of homes inventoried on the ground, but they couldn’t sell them.

“Builders are trying to be as disciplined as they can, but the demand is so high that they’re selling as soon as they’re building them,” he said. “Every other home under construction is already sold.”

The demographic report showed Rancho Sienna continues to be the top performing subdivision, with Santa Rita Ranch South following in second place.

Hart noted that 53 percent of new home starts in 2016 were located in subdivisions that have base pricing over $300,000.

In 2016, LHISD’s median new home price was $316,830, which Hart said was down 7 percent from 2015.

He said the reason for the slight drop in median price is because smaller homes are being built in some of the subdivisions.

“This is still very healthy, though,” he added.

The Greater Austin median new home price is $282,189, the study shows.

A lot inventory at the end of the fourth quarter showed 1,394 fully developed vacant lots on the ground, ready to go. The report showed that to be a 33.3 months supply. 469 lots were under development.

In other matters Monday, the Board approved Prosperity Bank as the school district’s bank for the next two years. The district is required by law to seek proposals every two years. Hart said while two institutions responded to its request for proposals, Prosperity offered the best interest rate.

In personnel matters this week, the Board approved the creation of two new positions — a licensed specialist in school psychology (salary range between $49,090-$70,643), and a speech language pathologist (salary range between $47,875-$68,895).

Following a 34-minute executive session, the Board approved the appointment of Josh Curtis as Principal at Liberty Hill Intermediate School. Curtis, who has been the assistant principal there, takes the position of longtime Principal Kathy Major, who is retiring at the end of the school year.

The Board also approved the employment of Candy Tijerina as Testing/ESL Coordinator for the school district. She replaces Trudy Hawthorne, who announced her resignation last month.

The Board also approved Jacqueline Stremple to serve as art teacher at Rancho Sienna Elementary.

The Board accepted the resignations of three high school coaches — Jimmy Duncan, Robert Draper and Samuel Lynn Burlison. Also resigning effective at the end of the school year is Caleb Slack, ESL/Migrant at Liberty Hill Elementary; Emily Menke, kindergarten; Brandeis Stubbins, 6th grade math; Nell Winstead, ELA at Bill Burden; Lisa Draper, high school English; Daniel Haggart, high school biology; Kathy Becker, high school culinary arts; Chelsea Carwile, junior high coach; and Julie Kindle, social studies/science at Liberty Hill Intermediate.

LHISD Human Resources Director Bobby Mabry told The Independent that the last day a professional employee can resign a position is 45 days before the first day of instruction, which is July 7.

Hart updated the Board on actions being taken in the Legislature this month that impact Texas public schools.

Particularly, he noted action taken by the majority of the House of Representatives to stop a Senate attempt to use public funds to support private and home schools.

One amendment to the Senate’s version of a proposed state budget (SB 1) said no public funds could be used for vouchers, education savings accounts or the like, Hart said. The House adopted the amendment in a 144-43 vote.

“A vote against that amendment was a vote for vouchers,” Hart said, adding that superintendents were provided with a list of those elected officials who voted no.

Among those was State Rep. Terry Wilson, R-Marble Falls, who represents Liberty Hill.

“Ours was one of them,” Hart said.

Also this week, the Board:
– Heard a report by LHHS Principal Mario Bye on an upcoming Town Hall meeting the school is hosting along with the Chamber of Commerce and The Liberty Hill Independent on underage drinking and substance abuse. The event, from 6-8 p.m. May 3 at LHHS is open to the public.
– Approved District Goals and a mission statement as recommended by the District Education Improvement Council (DEIC)
– Approved a local policy on student health and wellness as recommended by Student Health Advisory Council
– Approved Sodexo, Inc., as the district’s food service management vendor, and
– Heard a construction update by a representative of Bartlett Cocke that all construction projects at Rancho Sienna Elementary and the Agriculture Barn are on schedule.