Trustees add new teaching position at LH Elementary


By Christine Bolaños

There will be a new teacher at Liberty Hill Elementary in the fall after the school board approved the position June 15.

“We’re requesting an additional PPCD (Preschool Programs for Children with Disabilities) special ed Lifeskills teacher because the Hope House has never taken any residents in under 10 years old. But now they’ve added like 12 beds where they take emergency placements all the way down to 4 or 5 years old,” LHISD Superintendent Rob Hart told school board members.

The Liberty Hill-based nonprofit Hope House of Austin provides “a supportive, permanent home where residents with profound mental and physical challenges are happy and free to realize their potential,” according to its Facebook page.

“That’s a whole change of structure for us,” Hart explained. “We knew this right at the end of the year but we were able to get through with it just like the last two weeks or so we were able to get by.

“We know they’re going to fill it because the state has a difficult time finding placement for these children,” Hart explained. “We’re going to need that (additional position) just to cover this. And these are high-needs kids.”

The school board approved the position in a 5-0 vote with trustees David Nix and Greg Trash absent from the meeting.

Following a backlash from some parents to the reduction of instructional physical education days at Liberty Hill Elementary from five to three days a week, one parent spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. She was accompanied by about eight other mothers.

“As you know the community is growing very rapidly. This is not a new phenomenon. We have been here for almost five years as a family and growth is continuing,” said Megan Burk, a parent of four, two of whom attend the district. “We’re going to need solutions, sooner than later, on how growth will be managed in relation to the education of our children.

“There have been some proposed changes on reducing the number of physical education hours. We don’t want to reduce (the hours). The state minimum is just that, a minimum,” Burk said. “If I’ve learned nothing my few years here in Liberty Hill is that we strive to be the best.”

She cited the district’s test scores as an example of how it strives for “the best.” But, she cautioned, “we want to make sure we keep those test scores.” She said research has shown physical education is “critical” to child development.

She asked that parents’ feedback be taken into consideration before decisions affecting students are made. Burk also said there is a need for more parent involvement.

“We want to partner with you (the school board), and the schools and the community. You’ve done amazing things. We just want to ensure that the parents in this community are included in those conversations and are made part of those decisions in the future,” Burk said.

Also Monday, trustees renewed the Hart’s standing three-year contract. The contract is renewed each year. Salary was not part of the agenda item.

They also approved the resignations of Vanessa Freed (7th grade ELA), Penny Hart (math/algebra-junior high), Jennifer Hensley (high school art), Jennifer Morril (high school nurse), Shanna Sorrells (American Sign Language-high school), Christina Sorenson (1st grade), James Towson (Business-high school) and James Vernon (LSSP intern).

The school board green lighted the promotion of Chad Pirtle to assistant superintendent. Pirtle currently serves as principal at Liberty Hill Junior High. He replaced Robert Parks, whose retirement became effective earlier this month.

The Board also approved the employment of Angela Meade (special education Lifeskills/PPCD teacher), Gerald Olivier (director of instructional technology), Hiram Drum (social studies/high school coach), Kristina Boren (journalism/yearbook-high school), Todd Greenberg (6th grade social studies) and Dana Knight (Liberty Hill Elementary counselor).

School officials began discussions on the budget process during the meeting.

“We’re in that part of the year now where we’re beginning to develop next year’s budget,” Hart told the school board.

The district received appraisal estimates from the Williamson County Appraisal District and has begun estimating its revenues, however, its expenditures remain to be seen. Final certified values are expected in July.

The certified estimateed appraised value is $1,490,427,583, which is up $200 million from last year.

The final budget will be adjusted according to what district officials expect the district to bring in this year.

“We’re looking at revenue of about $3 million more,” Chief Financial Officer Frank Watson said. He cautioned that as taxable value goes up state funding usually goes down. Enrollment, however, increases state dollars. The district is budgeting for 200 more students.

“With that size of an increase we will get some additional tax dollars in spite of the fact that the local tax base has gone up,” Watson explained.

“The fact that we’re growing like we are and bringing in this much money, that’s part of our budgeting plan. Realize when you bring in 200 or more students, this year we’ve had to increase the number of buses, classrooms, teachers, staff throughout, not to mention supplies, travel, transportation, etc.,” Watson added. “We’re lucky to the fact that we are growing and getting this additional money to be able to handle the growth that we have. This looks real pretty right now. We’ll come back with the expenditures at a later date. I’m glad the numbers are doing what they are.”