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Cleveland ISD facing record enrollment--again

August 20, 2018

The kids just keep coming.

When Darrell Myers first arrived at 316 E. Dallas Street as superintendent four years ago, he could have never known the ride he was in for with the shocking growth that has come to the town and to the once small school district.

A once UIL 3A school district when he walked the corridors of the high school his first few days has now exploded to a thriving 5A district that has not seen the end of the growth.

“If you take a look at it over the last four years to where we’re sitting today, it’s a 75 increase in student population,” he said. It’s phenomenal growth.

By the numbers

Myers’ first reported enrollment was 3,650 students. On Friday, Aug. 17, they crossed the 6,450 student’s threshold—an increase of 2,800 new students in four years.

The superintendent, who is taking it all in stride and trying to remain calm, said his hair was black when he signed his contract. He’s solid gray now and has some sleepless nights wondering how he’ll address issues that come his way every day.

“We planned for a 12-14 percent enrollment increase this year, but it’s going to be more than that,” he said shaking his head.

At the end of the school year in May, there were 5,697 students enrolled at the school. By Friday, it had risen nearly 800 students to 6,450—about a 17 percent increase.

That means an additional 20-plus new classrooms, more teachers, bus routes and the ancillary services that take care of students.

And, the growth won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

“Working with our demographers and their projections, I don’t foresee us slowing down in the next 7-8 years,” he said. “They [the demographers] have us with 9,500 students in 2021 and we’re certainly on line for that.”

Last year the district added 500 new students over the summer but added an average of 20 new students every week up until February of 2018 before the enrollment dropped off.

“I think our patrons need to realize exactly what we’re facing. In the next year or so, we will have to come back to them to see what they want to do regarding bonds, school plants and facilities.”

Portable city

The portable buildings have become almost a complete campus on their own.

The district this year, so far, has added an additional 12 portable buildings, most of them placed at the high school and middle school campuses. The district now has a total of 36 portables spread across their half dozen campuses.

Myers said they were paid for out of the fund balance.

“Portables are expensive, and secondly, a lot of the expense is in getting them moved. The resale value goes down fairly fast,” he lamented.

The cost is in the $60,000 range and provides two classrooms. But Myers said that’s just part of the expense. There’s also the cost for ramps that have to be built, electrical has to be run, then plumbing must be dug and the cost continues to rise.

“The only saving grace with the new portables is that we know we’re going to need them in the future and we can move them a couple of times as needed and until we quit growing,” he said.

New facilities, expansions

Keeping up has become a moving target as most of the new facilities that were planned years ago will now be opening at capacity.

When the high school expansion was configured, there was a student body enrollment of 1,200 students. The expansion, expected to cost in the vicinity of $33.5 million, was anticipating 1,900 students. The current enrollment is 1,700 and by the time the expansion is ready to open, Myers believes they will be at capacity the first day.

“Colony Ridge gave us 30 acres for a new elementary school and a future middle school [in Plum Grove]. We’ll have two schools next door to each other,” he said. The elementary is planned to hold 1,000 students.

Myers is taking a page out of the fast-growing model of Cypress Fairbanks ISD where they build schools K-12 in their community.

“I think it’s a good model and it presents stability for kids,” he said. A new high school is not out of the picture.

The 2015 bond projects are finishing up where the middle school nearly doubled from 800 to 1,500 students. Eastside Elementary expanded from 600 to 1,000 and will be full on the first day of school.

“If I had anything to say it would be the portables aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” he said.

“We’re growing so fast that by the time we open we’re already at capacity.”

Myers said he just wished he could open a school during this growth with a few extra classrooms, but it’s not working out that way.

“It’s hard to get your mind wrapped around building something so far in the future that will satisfy the need,” the superintendent said.

Expansion at Eastside Elementary is also complete and will likely be full when the doors open.

The service center construction is also underway.

Myers expected to go out for bid for the construction of the high school expansion on Monday night at their board meeting.

Funding challenges

Growing exponentially has other issues.

“You can’t keep up with the growth. The tax base is always behind what you need as far as facilities. That’s also not a bad thing because it helps ensure that you don’t overbuild as well,” the cautious superintendent said.

This year CISD added 100 new employees, the majority of them teachers.

“With the growth, you not only have to have teachers, but bus drivers, those folks in support services whether in instructional, custodial, or feeding kids” he said.

They now boast a roster of more than 800 employees.

Myers pointed out that that they are always two years behind when it comes to new taxes being added to the tax base. He explained a home may be built in February of 2018 but doesn’t go onto the tax rolls until Jan. 1, 2019. Then the first tax bill isn’t paid until a year or 13 months later.

“It’s the system we have and it’s tough managing growth like this,” he said.

Property values increasing, in school finance, can be a Catch 22 because the contributions from the state start to go down.

“What you end up with is the local taxpayer paying more percentage of the student’s education than the state,” he said.

“I think that’s where local taxpayers get hit is with the state not contributing their share to fund public education,” he said.

Myers said he didn’t expect the board to raise the tax rate, but instead keep it flat.

“We’re still crunching numbers and if we can lower it we will use it on the Interest and Sinking funds to retire our debt service,” he said.

The district still has outstanding debt with the 2006, 2015, and 2017 series bonds.

“We haven’t sold all of the 2017 bonds yet,” Myers said.

“We’re selling it in parcels as we need the money.”

The district has a solid fund balance of $25 million, but some of that has to be reserved for a rainy-day fund as required by the state. The district’s budget has swollen to $48 million with the growth.

“The state requires every district to maintain a minimum fund balance of one-fourth of their annual budget or operating expenses. That’s their threshold—to meet payroll for three months and expenses for the district,” he said.

The additional fund balance is utilized to offset over-runs on the bond projects caused by tariffs, particularly with steel, and to pay for improvements at the stadium.

“We did pay for the football stadium improvements out of the fund balance so we didn’t put any more pressure on our taxpayers,” he said.

The upgrades included adding artificial turf, new bleachers and press box. They also expanded capacity to seat 3,000 on the home side and 2,000 on the visitor’s side. Since the district has moved into Division 5A, they are expecting larger crowds.

Myers also blames some of the overruns on the Hurricane Harvey effect with having to compete with the large number of projects underway in the private sector with craftsmen.

“There’s a lot of work out there and it drives the price up,” he said.

dtaylor@hcnonline.com

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