Since the early 1970s, there were four certainties about life in Flagler County, not two: death, taxes, increasing property valuations, and increasing school enrollment. Two years ago the third certainty became history as valuations began to tank. But school enrollment managed to creep up yet again, bucking the trend of many other Florida counties, Volusia especially, where schools have been hemorrhaging students. Schools in Flagler will be counting through Friday, but as the numbers are shaping up, “it’s going to be a year that we might not have growth for the first time,” Tom Tant, the district’s finance director, said Tuesday afternoon.
As of today, the district’s schools–including its charter schools, which are publicly funded–had enrolled 13,151 students. That’s down from last year’s 13,193. It’s a decline of 42 students, and 282 fewer students than the districts had estimated it would enroll about this time.
The budget implications are serious. Enrollment means dollars. Every enrolled student represents an average of $6,750 in state funding. When Flagler sent its enrollment estimate to Tallahassee for this year, it included those 240 students who, so far, haven’t showed up. State government included $1.62 million in the district’s $159 million budget (including reserves and capital projects). If those 240 haven’t materialized by Oct. 10, when official enrollment figures are recorded, the $1.62 million will have to be sent back to the state by December.
No, budget cuts aren’t ahead, at least not yet. This year’s spending so far was based on flat enrollment. Tant, the budget director, “held back” the $1.62 million appropriation that was based on increased enrollment as a precaution, precisely with the expectation that the enrollment numbers might not follow previous years’ trends. So no extra teachers were hired or resources acquired with the money. Think of it as $1.62 million held in escrow. “If we have a decline, we’ll still be fine,” Tant said.
The enrollment figures are also preliminary. For example, kindergartens were not yet necessarily fully enrolled. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the enrollment figures released so far are also inflated: Many students who were here in the last months of school last year don’t show up in fall, a school must wait 10 days before removing those students from the rolls. Enrollment numbers had declined last year in spring, driven in large part by persistently high unemployment and foreclosures.
Last decade, enrollment in Flagler was rising at staggering rates–by 13 percent in 2003, 15 percent in 2004 and 14 percent in 2005, and 9 percent the following year, before beginning to level off. Last year, the district added almost 300 students, a 2 percent increase that acted as a hedge against the financial losses other district experienced, including Volusia (where enrollment declined by 770 students this year over last, for a total enrollment of 61,400).
The declining numbers in the two counties suggest that population growth has either stalled or reversed after experiencing nearly unmanageable growth beginning in the mid-1990s.
Rymfire Elementary is the hardest-hit school in Flagler, with a loss of 147 students so far, or 10.5 percent of the student body. Belle Terre and Old Kings Elementary had more modest losses which may be offset once all kindergarten students are counted. Buddy Taylor Middle School, newly renovated, had an increase of 53 students, or 5.2 percent. Matanzas High School has an increase of 102 students, or 6.2 percent. Flagler Palm Coast High is flat.
Among charter schools, Imagine saw its enrollment jump by 72, or 15 percent. A complete chart of Flagler schools’ enrollment is below.
Flagler District: School by School Enrollment
|School||2009 Enrollment||2010 Enrollment*||+/- and % Difference|
|Belle Terre Elementary||1,506||1,473||-33 (-2.1%)|
|Bunnell Elementary||1,227||1,245||+18 (+1.5%)|
|Rymfire Elementary||1,544||1,397||-147 (-10.5%)|
|Old Kings Elementary||1,194||1,145||-49 (-4.1%)|
|Wadsworth Elementary||1,037||1,057||+20 (+1.9%)|
|Buddy Taylor Middle||1,015||1,068||+53 (+5.2%)|
|Indian Trails Middle||939||942||+3 (+0.3%)|
|Matanzas High||1,482||1,584||+102 (+6.9%)|
|Flagler Palm Coast High||2,371||2,381||+10 (+0.4%)|
|Imagine School (Charter)||462||534||+72 (+15.6%)|
|Palm Harbor (Charter)||124||85||-39 (-31%)**|
|Heritage (Charter)||168||168||No change|