Forces drive people off island
GALVESTON Â— Galveston finds itself in a weird position: Its property values are growing wildly while its population is staying flat. Those two trends have important implications both on the island and throughout the county.
For Galveston schools, it means plummeting student enrollments and the prospect of having to send millions of dollars off to other schools in the state.
For League City, itÂ’s helped to fuel explosive growth in recent years. And in towns such as Texas City and La Marque, a boom appears to be gathering.
In just the past year, the Galveston school districtÂ’s tax base has grown by 13 percent. But between 2000 and 2005, the cityÂ’s population grew by only seven tenths of a percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That is due both to skyrocketing property values and an increasing number of second homes. Only 30 percent of houses on GalvestonÂ’s West End are homesteads, or primary residences, according to the Galveston Central Appraisal District.
The effect of both has been to push families with school-age children back across the Causeway. If you factor out hurricane refugees and students who donÂ’t live in the district, Galveston has lost more than 12 percent of its students since the 2002-03 school year.
Eleven-year-old Belinda Reyes joined the ranks of GalvestonÂ’s former students when she and her family moved off the island in September.
Her father, Raymond Reyes, was born and raised in Galveston. Even so, he said, the economics made selling his house in Pirates Cove irresistible.
Â“We figured out that if we sold our house, we could go to League City, pay cash and not have any house note,Â” said Reyes, an audio-visual technician at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
As it turned out, Reyes and his wife, Gina, did have to finance $90,000 of their new home in Victory Lakes. But they also were able to move from a 1,900-square-foot home on the West End to a 3,400-square-foot home in League City.
Â“It was the right time to move,Â” Reyes said, noting that many of the other permanent residents on Cutlass Street have since done the same thing.
Some families leaving Galveston for League City say the relative quality of the schools is a factor. Reyes said heÂ’s been pleased with Clear Creek schools, but that wasnÂ’t why his family decided to move.
Â“I grew up in Galveston,Â” he said. Â“IÂ’ve always told people the schools are good. It depends on the student.Â”
Reyes is hardly alone in the ranks of the medical branch workforce choosing League City for a home. He said when he first went to the community pool he Â“knew half the people there.Â”
That helps to account for the fact that between 2000 and 2005, League City grew by 25 percent and passed Galveston as the countyÂ’s largest city.
But as they add new, affordable starter homes, other communities in the county might not be far behind.
Â“I would say that Texas City will grow as fast in the next five years as League City has in the last five,Â” said Daniel Freeman, director of UTMBÂ’s office of biostatistics. Â“I donÂ’t think the people in Texas City are ready for that.Â”
In March, Theresa and Jason Westfall and their 11-year-old son, Callen, moved from The Park apartments in Galveston to a new home in the South Point subdivision in Texas City. Callen will attend Galveston schools for the coming year and then he will start going to Dickinson schools, his mother said.
When they found a 2,100-square-foot house on a corner lot Â— and in their price range Â— it was too much to pass up, Westfall said.
Â“I got a huge front yard and a huge back yard for less than $150,000,Â” she said.
By contrast, all they could find for that money in Galveston was a house in need of work that only had one bathroom, Westfall said.
Leaving the island, however, has had its drawbacks. For one, thereÂ’s the extra cost for Westfall to commute to her job as a circuit trainer at the Curves fitness center in Galveston. Another has to do with the nature of suburban living.
Â“The only thing I donÂ’t like is nothingÂ’s close to where IÂ’m living,Â” Westfall said.