Hutto ISD attendance rise may mean new high school

Hippo Nation continues to grow

Hippo Nation continues to grow

The enrollment for Hutto ISD has more than doubled in the past 10 years, and the majority of the district’s 10 schools will exceed their capacity in the next five years, officials said. New schools, including a second high school, are on the horizon, according to officials.

Current enrollment for all schools is 6,944 students, which by the 2026-27 school year is projected to be nearly double at 12,518.

Superintendent Doug Killian, who came to HISD in 2010, said the district had 700 students in 1996.

“We’ve learned a lot about growth over the last few years,” Killian said. “Our projections are conservative for growth. Each quarter we get a realistic look at our [enrollment] numbers and housing trends.”

The district’s board of trustees heard its quarterly projections report Feb. 9, presented by Trent Smith of Templeton Demographics.

“Prices continue to grow,” Smith said. “Williamson County has been one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation the last two or three years. I don’t think that is going to slow down.”

Smith said the district’s average price per square foot for a new house in 2010 was $88. That number increased by 2016 to $137 per square foot. For existing houses, the average cost was $59 per square foot in 2010 and $130 per square foot in 2016.

The district continues steady growth and now has an estimated budget of more than $63 million for the 2017-18 school year. Enrollment projections show two schools, Ray and Veterans' Hill elementary schools, exceeding capacity by the next school year. Cottonwood Creek Elementary School is projected to exceed capacity the following year, with Hutto High School filling up by 2020-21. Killian said numbers from the high school are trending a little higher than projections, which are derived from housing starts and sales.

Projections show the high school at 1,903 students this  school year with a capacity of 2,400. The number of high school students is estimated to be 3,503 by 2026-27.

Howard Norman Elementary School opened last August. Killian said five of the six elementary schools will exceed capacity, according to projections, by 2025, as well as both middle schools by 2024.

“We have watched how other districts have handled their growth and built new high schools,” Killian said. “Recently, two in the area, Georgetown and Bastrop, went to a second high school. We feel they did it right.”

Planning for what is next

The district has steadily purchased land for new schools, Killian said. The Siena subdivision, part of the Veterans Hill attendance zone, was the highest-growth area in HISD in the fourth quarter of 2016 with 385 home closings, 606 vacant developed lots and 1,364 future homesites. The Glenwood subdivision in the Ray zone had the second-highest number of closings with 139. Riverwalk, in the Howard Norman zone, had the second-highest number of vacant developed lots at 92, and Hutto Square, in the Cottonwood Creek zone, had the second-highest future development number at 763.

The numbers show high growth in several areas of town. Killian said the challenge is to grow in the right areas, keeping in mind attendance boundary changes are difficult but necessary.

“But we try to limit boundary changes to every three years or more,” Killian said. “As we become larger, one of the advantages is attendance zones will settle in, so there won’t be as much change.”

Siena is the likely target for the next elementary school, which may be bid out at the end of 2017, and construction could start in February or March 2018, Killian said.

Killian said the district continually looks at its facilities plan and works with architects and staff to evaluate what features are successful when it comes to a new school. Howard Norman is a model future schools will emulate, Killian said, from its layout to technology.

Learning from the past

The district closed Veterans’ Hill after its first year in 2010-11, after cuts to state education funding.

The school reopened in fall 2014 to relieve overcrowding at Cottonwood Creek and Nadine Johnson elementary schools. Costs to reopen the school were just under $1 million, plus faculty and administration staffing for the school.

“That galvanized us a little,” Killian said. “We had to really look at funding, and that became the norm for the district. From the moment we knew we had to make budget cuts, we were very transparent, and that served us well then and it serves us well now.”

All decisions regarding the closing were tough, Killian said, “but it was the right decision.”Data: Attendance rise may mean 2nd HISD high school

Community partnerships

The city of Hutto has had some changes of its own recently. New City Manager Odis Jones said he quickly saw the strengths of the district when he began working for the city in December.

“Hutto ISD has a great leadership team,” Jones said. “We work very close together and have developed a solid relationship. I am most impressed with the way Doug [Killian] has managed Hutto ISD’s tremendous growth as well as the management of facility development and construction as part of his long-term strategic plan.”

Jones said schools are one of the first draws when it comes to businesses and families establishing themselves in Hutto.

“Great schools create a sense of place and a sense of purpose within a community,” Jones said. “We are very fortunate to have awesome schools and leadership here in Hutto. The quality of leadership is helping to drive investment and growth, which is a reason why Hutto remains one of the hottest markets in the country.”

Killian said partnerships with the city, the Hutto Area Chamber of Commerce and the Hutto Economic Development Corp. are important to HISD. He said attraction of new businesses and industry will help bring more tax money in and take the pressure off taxpayers.

“[The partnership] is very important,” Jones said. “Partnerships are a symbol of good government, which breathes stability and confidence into a market. Doug [Killian] and I are fortunate to work together.”

Growing schools

Killian said the district explores ways to fine-tune curriculum to meet the needs of the workforce.

“Having relationships with the colleges, universities, Dell [Technologies] and medical centers are important,” Killian said. “We try to expose our students to all the opportunities we can.”

The HISD robotics team, in its fifth year, just finished second at the state finals. Culinary, nursing, cyber security and dual-credit programs will continue to grow in the years to come, Killian said. HISD also became a district of innovation, the 65th school district to do so in Texas. The changes allowed under that designation, Killian said, will benefit the students and staff beginning next year.

“It’s an exciting time here," Killian said. “We’re growing, and I feel we are doing it the right way. Our challenges are always going to be in facilities and curriculum, but we need to work on a performing arts center, gym, tech programs, and our [agriculture] facility needs to be renovated. We have some interesting ideas for Hippo Nation.”

By Joe Warner
Joe Warner is executive editor of Community Impact Newspaper. He previously served as managing editor for Central Texas and senior editor of the flagship Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto newspaper. He came to Central Texas from Metro Detroit, where he was editor and general manager of several daily and weekly publications. He is the former president of the Michigan Press Association and was on the MPA board of directors for nine years.