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Flagler Schools’ Enrollment Is Flat Overall But Showing Strong Migration to Charters

| August 22, 2011

Jamming at Imagine: the car lines in Town Center stretched roughly a mile between the two directions, bringing traffic to a near-standstill Monday afternoon.  (© FlaglerLive)

Jamming at Imagine: the car lines in Town Center stretched roughly a mile between the two directions, bringing traffic to a near-standstill Monday afternoon. (© FlaglerLive)

Enrollment in all of Flagler County’s public schools ended the year in May with 12,900 students (after starting the year at just above 13,000). Today, first-day enrollment was 13,193.

The increase, tiny compared with all previous years except the last, when it stayed flat, may be deceptive, however.

Today’s figure may be somewhat inflated: students enrolled at the end of last year who have not explicitly been withdrawn are counted among the total, even if they didn’t show up today. The Tuesday after Labor Day, if those students are still not answering roll-call, they’re deleted from the attendance list. Superintendent Janet Valentine expects the district may lose up to 150 students, though the district may also add some students–walk-in enrollment.

Then there’s the charter effect. The Flagler County School district’s 11 traditional schools ended the last school year with 11,956 students. They started the year today with 12,097, including 16 students who are enrolled full-time through iFlagler, the district’s virtual school.

When enrollment at the district’s three charter schools is included, the numbers jump: last year, the three charter schools–Imagine at Town Center, Palm Harbor Academy and Heritage–had a combined enrollment of 786 (with 520 of those at Imagine). This year, the three schools’ enrollment on the first day was 1,088, an overall increase of 302 students, or 38 percent, most of it at Imagine: the school virtually doubled in size, physically, over the summer.

Charter school enrollment suggests what school district officials, among them school board members, fear: that charter schools can be strong magnets, taking students away from traditional public schools. Even Heritage Academy, considered an F school in the district, added students–not many: four, so far this year; nevertheless, an increase.

Imagine’s kindergarten enrollment is especially pronounced, going from fewer than 100 students last year to 147 this year.

Parents may have a harder time switching their children away from their neighborhood school in the middle of a cycle, School Superintendent Janet Valentine said, but when they’re starting off, they’re willing to try something new.

Every traditional elementary school in the district, meanwhile, lost students except for Old Kings Elementary, which stayed at the very same number it ended the year with: 1,142.

“Choice in general is what’s driving all this, and I think it’s important to have choice in our school system,” Valentine said. “We all need to take a look at things and realize that things are changing in the way we need to do business, and the way we need to support effective charter schools is just another choice within the district.”

Parents driving their children to Imagine and picking them up today certainly saw a difference. Traffic on Town Center Boulevard, going north and south from Imagine, was a snaking, perhaps mile-long line of gleaming metal and glass for more than an hour Monday afternoon as it funneled into the car-rider loop at the school. Nevertheless, Lisa O’Grady, principal at Imagine, said the last child was put in the last car at about 4:15 p.m., 75 minutes after dismissal, this afternoon. Last year on the first day of school, the last child rode out at 4 p.m. So with the addition of 300 students, O’Grady considered the day a success despite the delays, which she says will diminish considerably as students learn their car-rider numbers. “I really do feel like the longer we are building familiarity with the student numbers,” O’Grady said, “the process will even itself out.”

The car-rider line at Belle Terre Elementary was also very long today. In many cases, parents who will eventually let their children ride the bus prefer to take them and pick them up on the first days.

Imagine has three buses. It will need a fourth, O’Grady said, and plans to have it by October. But with the new, large building on campus, the first day, O’Grady said, “was extremely smooth. It was our smoothest first day yet, students were learning already, it was quiet, the new building, it was seamless—just a lot of happy kids.”

The rest of the school district has a very smooth day as well. “We didn’t have any issues in school. It was a very smooth start of school,” Valentine said.

Except with transportation.

In an attempt to save money, the district combined buses and routes, and had middle school students riding with high school students. It worked in some places, not in others. Valentine said at least five buses were overcrowded. She was aware of at least one case where parents chose to drive their child to school instead of having the student ride the bus.

One bus was reportedly so overcrowded that students sat in the aisles.

“We are collecting all the information we need and making tweaks along the way,” the superintendent said. “I think we needed a couple of extra buses.”

The first day of school’s enrollment figures are significant in many respects. Each student commands the equivalent of $5,600 in state funding. The more enrollment falls, the more funding is lost in the district. But the more students migrate to charter schools, which are also considered public schools–even though they are privately run and, like Imagine, are run for profit–the more money the district loses for its traditional schools. If the figures stay flat overall but decrease in the traditional schools, that means those schools will get less funding.

The first day of school’s enrollment may also be indicative of the economic health of county. The county’s labor force has shrunk by about 3 percent since last year, suggesting that workers are either retiring or leaving the area. They are, at any rate, not moving in as they used to. Today’s enrollment figures point to a slight, encouraging uptick, but the more solid figure won’t be clear until after Labor Day.

Just as the traditional schools lost students in elementary schools and stayed almost even in middle schools, they gained considerably in the two high schools. Below is a breakdown of enrollment, school by school, this year compared with last.

Flagler County School Enrollment, 2011-2014

Enrollment at End of May 2011First-Day Enrollment, August 2011Certified Enrollment, Feb. 2012Enrollment at End of May, 2013Enrollment at end of May 2014Enrollment on Sept. 15, 2014
Belle Terre Elementary150414241400135713431329 (-14)
Buddy Taylor Middle10081013980100610331002 (-31)
Bunnell Elementary130612241228129012811235 (-46)
Flagler-Palm Coast High215524852338224723062442 (+136)
Imagine at Town Center520809815867896906 (+10)
Indian Trails Middle892914875806869909 (+40)
Matanzas High148516061587156615761606 (+30)
Old Kings Elementary114211421134113111111106 (-5)
Palm Harbor Academy92101112666366 (+3)
Phoenix Academy667268657971 (-8)
Rymfire Elementary137912981317130712681172 (-96)
Wadsworth Elementary931860862879901871 (-30)
Note: the numbers will fluctuate throughout the year, especially in the first few weeks and the last few weeks of the school year. Source: Tom Tant, finance director, Flagler County School District.
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12 Responses for “Flagler Schools’ Enrollment Is Flat Overall But Showing Strong Migration to Charters”

  1. Jerry M says:


  2. Liana G says:

    I just got off the phone with family members who recently moved back to the UK after living in NY for the past 10 years. They got fed up of the daily grind and the poor schools standards. I was told that their three kids took a train, a bus, and a friend’s address to get into better schools than the ones they were assigned. These were folks who purchased a home and paid the high property taxes but were very unhappy with the schools in their district.

    Here in Palm Coast we have parents going out of their way to put up with, and crawl along in snail traffic just to get their kids into schools that best suit their preferences. I am not a fan of charter schools, but a voucher to send my kids to the catholic school on Belle Terre Pkwy would please me greatly. I am not religious, some slight Buddhist leanings, I simply prefer and admire the structure, focus, discipline, and the challenging academic curriculum these schools offer.

  3. basketballmom says:

    UGGGGHHHHHH! Hoping things get better for the middle and high school buses. Not a fan of this mixture. My son got out of BTMS @1:40pm. Headed to Phoenix academy then onto FPC. Overcrowded..3 to a seat. Some had to get off and wait for another bus to pick them up. Finally arrived home at 3:15PM, Over 1.5 hours on a bus!!!That is crazy. I know it was budget cuts, but come on. This is ridiculous.

  4. ol' sarge says:

    These parents who jump ship in a rash rush to judgment should spend a little time doing some research. Instead of running out and “saving” their children from the negative stigma of public schools, they should instead read a little info and realize the local public schools outperform the charter schools year in and year out…charter schools are not held to the same standards!!

    Wake up, parents…do your research before you send your kids out to receive the subpar education available at the local charter schools…big mistake!

  5. teach says:

    I am a teacher in Flagler County. I have had several parents bring their children to the public school system from private schools, including the Catholic school on Belle Terre. Time and time again parents have told me their children were not prepared for the rigor of our curriculum.

  6. Gram says:

    An oft-overlooked aspect of the Public vs. Public Charter debate is customer service. It seems to me that most parents who choose other schools do so because they feel a lack of attention to their needs. Like Kurt Vonnegut said, “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind,” and I’ve heard many stories of parents feeling shut out or treated coldly by teachers.

    I don’t know how teachers are instructed to act when it comes to customer service, that’s all I’m saying.

  7. Liana G says:

    I have a neighbor who took her child out of this catholic school, where she spent most of her elementary years, placed her in the public middle school but subsequently withdrew her during winter break of that same year to put her back in the catholic school. When the mom made the switch to the public school her child was placed a year ahead of her grade yet, the class work she was doing was below her level even though she was placed in the advanced classes. Mom felt she had already invested too much and her child had come too far to let her slide backwards. Repetitive FCAT drills in math and reading are not tantamount to a rigorous and well rounded curriculum.

  8. Nancy N. says:

    The district is most definitely short on buses and overloading bus routes. I was informed this morning that my daughter’s normal pick-up time on her special needs bus will be 8:55am because her bus route like all the rest of them is overloaded. School starts at 9am! She – and all her fellow riders – will be late to school EVERY DAY if the transportation department does not come up with a way to fix this. Those kids are supposed to be delivered to school by 8:40am at the latest so that kids have time to get to their classroom and eat breakfast before school starts. Last statistic I heard was that something like 50% of Flagler students are on reduced price meals – which means a lot of these kids NEED to eat breakfast at school. Delivering them after 9am means they aren’t getting it. Not to mention that the school day has already been shortened this year and delivering kids late just shortens it further.

  9. judyv says:

    The first week of school always involves getting the kinks out of the bus system. It is frustrating, made worse by budget cuts. It is unacceptable that any student be delivered to school late every day. I’m would think that would be illegal. It is my hope that all of these problems are being brought to the attention of the proper administrator.

    As far as public vs. private, you get out what you put in. My three children, all educated at Flagler County Public Schools have all graduated from college two are getting advanced degrees (one a doctorate, one a master’s). They did well. I was involved – that is the key. I do agree that FCAT is a waste of time and effort for the teachers and students. It forces both to stay within a box when we should be teaching them how to think outside the box. But if someone prefers to send their child to the “Catholic school on Belle Terre” (not sure why we don’t say Mother Seton), that’s their choice. Whatever works best for you is what you should do.

    Good luck to all parents with children in school – take it from me, it goes by so fast and you will miss it when it’s done.

  10. Liana G says:

    Nancy more than 50% of Flagler students are on free and reduce meals which accounts for and explains the over all attitude of this district in their dealings with parents and students. But rest assured these students will get their ‘breakfast on the go’ consisting of either sugary poptarts, sticky buns, powdered donuts and other junk they serve up for food.

    As for the transportation cutback, those were necessary so that this top heavy and overpaid administration can keep their positions and salaries intact. Don’t be surprised if they cut out bus services completely in order to give themselves the 10% salary increase they are still grasping after.

    Harking back to what you said Gram “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind,” though I must say that my kids and I have been very, very fortunate to receive some excellent and outstanding teachers, including this year and we’re only into our second day of school. And yes, I have heard some horror stories.

  11. Val Jaffee says:

    The enrollment numbers, 1606 students, for Matanzas seems stranglely low for the number of administrators (7 listed) at this particular school. FPC has 2485 students and only 7 administrators listed. That’s a difference of 879 students with the same numder of administrators! An extreme case of unequal distribution of people resources. Makes one wonder who is teaching who exactly.

  12. An Observer says:

    Ole Sarge, perhaps you are biased or have something against charter schools personally or perhaps a former public school teacher. Regardless of your reasons, there are many parents that have done research and prefer sending their children to our local charter school. BTW (by the way) charter schools have to follow the same guidelines and standards as the public schools in our county. Stop putting down the parents who send their children where they choose by telling them to do more research. These parents aren’t stupid. I have nothing against public schools, all my children were educated through them and I’ve seen our local charter school grow in leaps and bounds (+55.6%) since last year with a new building to accommodate their growing enrollment. This leads me to believe they are doing something right if their enrollment is up over 50%. Maybe a face to face observation would change your mind and impress you. Whether public or private there are many dedicated teachers in both and at any given time a parent can find fault wherever they choose to send their children. Any child will excel in their education with the backing of good parenting working with good teachers.

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