LHISD Board mulling 4-campus bond
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
When you grow, you build. When you grow fast, you need to build faster.
The Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees drank from the firehose so to speak Monday night when it received the most recent demographics report projecting student enrollment growth as well as a recommendation from the Long Range Planning Committee that included a nine-figure bond proposal.
“At the end of the day the demographics are staggering,” said Superintendent Steve Snell. “The amount of growth coming our way is staggering. This bond is going to be the foundation to start the preparation for all this growth.”
This bond, to be ironed out at a special Board meeting Feb. 8, is proposed at $491,700,000 and would include four new schools, planning for two others, and a list of infrastructure improvements throughout the district.
While he admits the dollar amount can be shocking, Snell said the proposal includes no frivolous spending and is the price of operating a district that has such steep enrollment increases.
“What’s very, very important to us is that the entire community knows exactly what we’re asking for, what we plan to do and for the most part when we plan to do it,” Snell said. “That $490 million is an enormous number, but there is nothing frivolous in this bond election. We are building strictly to keep up with growth.”
And like the last bond, approved at $98.6 million in 2018, the new proposal will not increase the district’s tax rate. The debt service tax rate is at the maximum allowed amount of $0.50 per $100 valuation, and the new bonding capacity is based on the district’s ability to borrow and pay off the bonds at the current rate over time.
“The tax rate on our debt side will not increase,” Snell said. “The tax rate will not increase because it can’t by law.”
As proposed, the bond on the table calls for additions and renovations to Liberty Hill Elementary and the new Louine Noble Elementary – currently the Intermediate School campus – to bring them up to 800 student capacity and ensure facilities are on par with the newer campuses.
It also includes two new elementary campuses as well as funds for the design of the eighth elementary campus.
There is a third middle school included as well as design funds for a fourth.
The biggest ticket item in the proposal is a second high school with a projected price tag of $165 million.
Another $101 million is planned for infrastructure projects that include technology improvements, maintenance, buses and funds for land purchase for the new campuses.
“These are things we need to help manage our growth in terms of student devices, buses, and preventative maintenance on our buildings,” Snell said.
Why it’s needed
Demographers have projected the Fall 2021 enrollment for the district at 6,566 and that number is expected to double by 2025 to 12,215. Beyond the five years the current bond is intended to address, enrollment is projected to nearly double again by 2030 to over 22,000.
“When you look at our school demographics, just in one year we’re up 13.5 percent this year,” Snell said. “Out of the 5,700-plus kids we have in the district today, almost 1,400 are brand new to our district.”
Enrollment projections are tied to housing starts, and even through the pandemic, that number has also continued to increase sharply.
“We look at the number of houses built in our district and that was up 40 percent over the last year,” Snell said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean school-age kids today, but houses are being sold as soon as they can be built.”
New housing occupancies are expected to reach 26,000 between now and 2030 when including single family, multifamily and mixed use development. Within the district, student occupancy is expected to be .49 per household for single family residences and .53 per household per multi-family residence.
“The long range planning was an effort to plan purposefully and responsibly so that we keep up and even stay ahead of the growth and not get caught in a bind,” he said. “We want to be able to build schools so our students get a high-level education and our schools are not overcrowded.”
Ultimately it is all about trust between the community and school district.
“We want to be responsible to stay ahead of this growth,”Snell said. “We want the community to trust us in our planning. We want the community to know that we’re going to be frugal and responsible with taxpayer dollars.”
See next week’s edition of The Independent for more specific details on the bond proposal and a deeper look at the work of the Long Range Planning Committee.