By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
Despite a slowdown in growth over the last several years, Leander ISD continues to be ranked the 12th fastest-growing large school district in Texas, thanks in large part to the district’s high quality of life.
Demographers determine a district’s quality of life by looking at criteria such as the number of economically-disadvantaged students, median income levels and home values, and the overall education level of residents. Dr. Stacey Tepera, a demographer with Population and Survey Analysts, presented the findings to the LISD Board of Trustees in October.
“People move here for the good schools and for the perceived quality of life,” Tepera said.
One of the primary factors that determines a district’s quality of life is the percentage of students who qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program. This percentage is tightly correlated with median household income and median housing value.
In LISD, only 19.68 percent of enrolled students were eligible for the free/reduced price lunch program in fall 2014, compared to 58.39 percent of all students in Texas who participate in this program, according to the PASA report. LISD ranks third in Texas for the lowest percentage of disadvantaged students, compared to the 62 large school districts with more than 20,000 students in Texas.
LISD Board of Trustee Vice President Pamela Waggoner said the district’s location plays a role in the low number of economically-disadvantaged students.
“We are basically a suburban district on the outskirts of a vibrant, economically-sound larger city,” Waggoner said. “People live and send their children to schools in our area, but work in the city. Also, many parents work from their homes now so they can live in places considered more desirable to raise a family.”
Another factor that determines quality of life is the median income of residents in the district. In LISD, the median household income is $81,615, compared to $63,603 in the Austin metro area, according to 2014 data from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey.
One reason for the higher median income in the district may be the rising price of homes. In 2015, the average taxable value of a home in LISD after a $25,000 homestead exemption is $269,139, according to the district’s 2015-16 budget presentation.
“A difference in LISD you are seeing now as compared to 10 years ago is the lack of starter homes,” Waggoner said. “Builders are building higher-valued homes and younger families are having a more difficult time qualifying for a mortgage. LISD has not been asked to get involved with city and county planning. Our job is provide an education to all our students regardless of economic status.”
The district also has the benefit of a low percentage of unemployed residents. Unemployment rates in the cities in and around LISD have remained consistently lower than unemployment rates in Texas over the past three years, according to PASA. The cities of Austin, Leander, and Cedar Park all have unemployment rates between 2.7 percent and 3.0 percent as of August 2015, compared to the State of Texas’ rate of 4.4 percent.
That may be partly due to a highly-educated population. PASA reported that 44 percent of adults in LISD hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 41 percent in the Austin metro and 27.6 percent in Texas overall. LISD ranks 13th out of 87 school districts (with 65,000+ total population) with the highest percent of college-educated adults.
Not surprisingly, the only negative indicator mentioned in the report is increasing commute time for those living in the district. Mean one-way travel time to work is 28.8 minutes, compared to 28.2 minutes in 2013, 28.0 minutes in 2012, and 27.9 minutes in 2011. The Austin metro area has also increased travel times, from 25.8 minutes in 2011 to 25.5 minutes in 2012, 26.4 minutes in 2013, and 26.5 minutes in 2014.
In an effort to maintain the district’s high quality of life, Waggoner said the Board of Trustees has not increased the maintenance and operation tax rate since 2007 and continues to build schools only as needed to keep up with population growth.
“We also continue to look for ways to partner with businesses and volunteers to share resources whenever possible,” Waggoner said. “We will continue to listen to our community on how they want their district to look and perform, while providing an enriching education and opportunities to participate in fine arts and sports. We will concentrate on the whole child.”