With the Labor Day holiday over and classes back in full swing, enrollment at pre-K through 12th-grade school districts in Liberty County appears to be leveling off. The numbers show decreases at some districts while others remain stagnant or show only modest growth.
Cleveland ISD continues to smash previous enrollment records year after year. Currently 6,482 students attend school in Cleveland, up 785 students from last year’s year-end figure of 5,697. The growth rate is roughly 14 percent.
Compare Cleveland ISD’s figure to the number of students at the county’s smallest elementary-through-high school districts – Hardin and Hull-Daisetta. Hardin, a 3A district, has around 1,439, 103 less students than last year’s 1,542. Hull-Daisetta saw a jump this year in enrollment, from 459 last year to 490 this year, a difference of 31 additional students.
Like Hardin, Tarkington ISD has fewer students this year – with 1,830 students, 10 less than last year’s figure of 1,840.
Liberty, Dayton and Splendora ISDs saw modest growth. Liberty ISD welcomed roughly 90 more students this year, a jump from 2,114 to 2,204. Dayton, which was the biggest school district in Liberty County just a few years ago, is now the second-largest with 5,386 current students. Last year, Dayton ISD reported 5,365, a difference of 21 students.
Splendora ISD, which has a footprint inside Liberty County, welcomed an additional 140 students this year, up from 3,952 last year to 4,092 at the start of the 2018-19 school year.
Modest growth is a superintendent’s dream, according to Liberty ISD Superintendent Dr. Cody Abshier.
“It is moderate growth that allows us to balance our budget. We are pleased to have moderate, manageable growth this year,” he said.
An increase in students equates to additional state and federal funding, which for some districts means no job cuts or deficit budgets.
“If we would have had the same number of kids as last year, it would have been a deficit budget by about $300,000 for us,” Abshier said. “With these 90 extra kids, that will put us within a balanced budget this year. This is the first time we’ve broken 2,200 students since the 2005-06 school year.”
Moderate growth is not something Cleveland ISD will experience for the foreseeable future, as thousands more residents move into the school district each year, putting a strain on the its resources and infrastructure.
“When you grow too quickly, you can outgrow your facilities. That’s where we are right now,” said Dr. Darrel Myers, superintendent for Cleveland ISD. “You love to see all the students come but it puts a strain on the infrastructure.”
Cleveland ISD voters approved two bonds within the last three years – a $35 million bond in 2015 for expansions and improvements to Eastside Elementary, Southside Elementary and Cleveland Middle School; and a $80 million bond approved by voters in 2017 for an additional elementary campus in Plum Grove and a new wing on the high school campus. Myers said the school board is already discussing future bonds.
“The time to call for additional bonds is fast approaching. You have an election calendar that you must abide by,” said Myers. “Obviously our local taxpayers have been hit hard and I understand that.”
Myers knows that he faces a tough challenge of convincing voters to approve a third bond in such a short period of time.
“You have to get out and educate your patrons about the need for the bond if you hope to be successful,” Myers said. “The key to getting support from the community is to be prudent about what you do and be transparent, so people know what is going on.”
According to Myers, the last two bonds are responsible for an additional $0.10 per $100 in property valuation for properties within Cleveland ISD. The district’s tax rate in 2015, pre-bond, was $0.275 per $100 valuation and currently stands at $0.375 per $100 valuation.
“As we get more property values with more rooftops, the tax rate should come down,” Myers said.
After the new elementary school is built in Plum Grove, Cleveland will need to consider a middle school, the superintendent said.
When asked if the next new campus will also be in Plum Grove, Myers said, “Yes, that’s where the growth is coming. Why bus all those students to town and back when we can serve them there and provide a good neighborhood school?
“More than likely, the next bond will address multiple grade levels, not just middle school but another elementary school as well,” he said.
By Vanesa Brashier, email@example.com