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Opinion
Palm Coast Thursday, Jul. 14, 2022 3 weeks ago

MY VIEW: We can't let population growth impact quality of education

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Developers must pay enough to offset their developments' impacts on local schools.
by: Guest Writer

by: Jason Wheeler, Coordinator of Communication, Flagler Schools 
and Kristy Gavin, Board Attorney, Flagler Schools 

We believe there is something all of us can agree on: Funding for school districts is a complicated process. But what we have in Flagler County is history.

Between 2000 and 2005, we all saw explosive growth in Flagler County. The School District had to react quickly to build capacity for all the families moving in. We cite the numbers submitted to the Board of County Commissioners by Adam Mengel, Flagler County's growth management director, at its Dec. 6, 2022, meeting. From 2000 to 2010, 48,564 people moved into Flagler County. 

Then, we saw the economic downturn hit. Between 2010 and 2019, we saw only 15,710 new residents, or an annual growth rate of approximately 1.7%.

The same table shows the county is again seeing growth. 

From 2019 to 2022, the county is again seeing a higher percentage of growth, with an additional 8,749 people moving to Flagler County, or  2,816 people a year. That’s an annual 2.5% increase over the past three years.

Flagler Schools does not want a repeat of how this growth was handled in the early 2000s.

Before the recession hit, we were in the process of building a new school every year to keep up with the growth. Since we made our facilities so large, we have been able to absorb the slow but steady growth of new families moving into our area. But we now have seen that extra space disappear.

Mr. Chiumento cites a school population of 13,131 (13,365 actual), which is the snapshot from October 2021. In March 2022, Florida’s Department of Education estimated our school population for the 2022-2023 school year at 13,670. That is a 2.3% increase, nearly mirroring the population growth for Flagler County. We are projected to begin this next school year with 300 students more than with which we ended the last school year.

Between 2014 and 2016, Flagler Schools received four letters requesting capacity determinations from builders and/or developers. Between 2018 and 2021, there were 47 requests.

The fact is, houses are being built all across the county. More than 2,000 building permits were issued across Flagler County in 2021, and, despite supply chain issues and labor shortages, we are still seeing new rooftops added well into 2022, with no signs of that stopping.

It is easy to say the School District has $30 million in the bank and is sitting on $13 million of undeveloped property. But the truth behind those numbers is the district has outstanding debt service of $39 million as a result of the new schools built to satisfy the extraordinary growth of the 2000s. As for the property, the district has not had any property appraisals completed to determine the current value of vacant property held within the district. 

Flagler Schools has been good stewards of the funds received from our taxpayers, ensuring the needs and services of all our students are met while operating in full compliance with the statutory limitations placed upon those funds.

It continues to be noted that for every dollar sent to Tallahassee from the required local effort, only a portion of that dollar returns to Flagler County.

We are always focused on ensuring that the students of Flagler County receive a quality education.

By providing them with rigorous academics and instruction, Flagler County students graduate with the skills needed to be competitive with their peers throughout the country.

The learning options given to our students are second to none.

The District wants to assure the families and students entering our school system over the next 20 years will receive the same quality education received by the students in the last 20 years.  The quality of the education a Flagler County student receives will not be compromised by growth.

Editor's note: This letter is a response to a letter by Michael Chiumento. Read his letter here.

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