The Flagler County School District is not overcrowded. If anything’ it’s still considerably under-crowded: it has 2,000 seats district-wide, with about a third of that total in elementary schools and the rest mostly in the district’s two middle schools.
But two elementary schools are above capacity: Belle Terre Elementary Schools has 42 students more than it’s built for, and Old Kings Elementary has 108 more.
One thing explains the paradox: choice, the new state law—and a policy long before accommodated locally—that requires that parents who want their children to attend a school for which they’re not zoned must be provided that opportunity, assuming there’s space at that school. District-wide, 1,436 students are attending schools they’re not zoned for, though that includes Voluntary Pre-K programs and gifted programs, so the figure is slightly misleading, and the district did not yet have figures that apply exclusively to K-12 students.
Many parents in Flagler want their children to be either at Old Kings or at Belle Terre regardless. Once a child is enrolled as a “choice” student at a particular school, that child may not be booted back to his or her home school, so a first grader who made it to Old Kings as a choice student must be allowed to complete the cycle through sixth grade there. It doesn’t matter if the chosen school reaches or goes over capacity along the way. (As a commenter noted below, however, “attendance and behavior issues can (and have) resulted in school choice students being sent back to their zoned schools.”)
That’s what happened at Old Kings and at Belle Terre. The schools miscalculated. They took in more students under “choice.” Those students have stayed. The two schools are required to accommodate all students zoned for them as well. The result was the equivalent of an airline overbooking its flights. Rules, in other words, were not enforced: administrators who should have put a stop to “choice” transfers did not do so. (One reason is that every student in a seat represents a pot of dollars. The more students, the more dollars that school is eligible for.)
And now the district has to contend with the consequences.
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That has prompted the district administration to talk about rezoning that would relieve pressure on Old Kings and Belle Terre Elementary, but end up affecting almost all the elementary schools and Buddy Taylor Middle School. The Flagler County School Board discussed the possibilities in a workshop Tuesday. But it came away leery of any major changes—certainly none this year and most likely none next year. If there is to be any rezoning, it would not happen until the 2018-19 school year.
“The expectation of this discussion is to come forward with a plan that we’d be looking to put in place not for next year, but the following year, is that correct?” board member Colleen Conklin said.
Board Chairman Trevor Tucker said it’s more of a matter of figuring out what may be done feasibly in the short term, short of rezoning, as well as the long term, meaning rezoning by 2018-19.
The end result was this: The board will first consider limiting choice enrollment at Old Kings and Belle Terre elementaries, and see whether that would take care of the problem. The district is allowed to do that if the schools are at capacity or beyond. Parents are not entitled to place their children anywhere they please, in other words, if the seats are not available. So the district will have to “follow the rules to limit choice at the two schools,” Tucker said. (Keep in mind, the district will not even move to that end before again holding a workshop on the matter.)
Second, the board, at Conklin’s instigation, will analyze an entirely new option: possibly converting all elementary and middle schools to K-8 schools. All schools were built with that possibility in mind except for Old Kings Elementary, so the district will have to analyze what it would cost to reconstruct Old Kings to that end. Belle Terre would need some adjustments, too. (The Flagler district had actually seriously considered that switch four years ago, seeing it as almost certain by 2014, but that never came to be. Neither did a rezoning plan.)
Third, it will further analyze rezoning options and consider various scenarios, none of which are currently set.
The district is confronted with the unintended consequences of school choice.
“I’m not going to tell you that I’m married to any specific idea,” Superintendent Jacob Oliva said at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting, stressing that he’s only looking for direction from the board.
But the rezoning plan that has been produced so far would rezone part of Wadsworth Elementary’s zone to Rymfire, and part of the Old Kings Elementary zone to Wadsworth Elementary. Some of Buddy Taylor Middle School’s 500-some empty seats would be shifted to nearby Wadsworth Elementary, as the two schools are on the same campus. That would even out the available seating at the elementary schools, leaving each school with between 140 and 300 seats to make available as choice seats.
The proposal, presented by Mike Judd, who used to be the district’s facilities director until he briefly retired—to accommodate his state retirement system requirements—and returned as a special projects administrator, would also save money by cutting out 186 hours of bus transportation time (that’s 186 hours less that bus drivers will earn in pay), netting the district $100,000—money Oliva said, with a laugh, already committed to other needs.
“I would look at this as a short-term solution, say five to 10 years,” Judd said. The long-term solution? A new school, possibly at the southern end of the county, where areas such as Hunters Ridge and Plantation Bay are seeing significant new construction. One complication, however: the population analyses the district is relying on date back to 2008 estimates, which are outdated.
“We’re not going down that road unless we’re really ready to look at this because we’re asking a lot from our folks,” Oliva said. “There’s a lot of different directions this conversation could go. Our hope today is to kind of narrow that scope if we could, because I think we have a great foundation.” He continued: “We might decide it’d be best to leave the zones the way they are and really look at choice, because schools that are at capacity are built on choice, and we’ve been very liberal, I think, with our school-choice policy, and I think it’s the right blend to look for as far as following that spirit, but we will start having waiting lists, especially at Belle Terre and Old Kings.”
“Rezoning is never fun, so somebody is getting displaced. We’ve lived through this before. It’s not pretty No one is happy,” Conklin said.
True, Tucker said, but it can also be limited if the district were to even out its seats by not displacing people who are already zoned for their home school. Better restrict choice in line with capacity, he said, rather than rezone to enable more of the same.
“But the numbers are going to even themselves out depending on how good of a job we do with rezoning,” Conklin said. “At least you’d have more capacity in every school for choice to even take place.”
That’s actually the case now: Bunnell, Rymfire and Wadsworth elementaries have those seats available. Old Kings and Belle Terre alone don’t. That raised another question: why are parents so intent on taking their children to those two schools, but not to others? Board members want the answer to that question, too, as it implies that some schools are perceived as better than others. “That is a management issue, that is an internal conversation that needs to happen,” Conklin said. “It could be for reasons that no one has any control over, but at the end of the day that should be a driving conversation, and we should be dealing with that issue. If we want to face choice and have choice, which I strongly think that we should, we need to come up with a way to equalize the populations across the schools, so that even choice can happen.”
Proposed rezoning lines for elementary schools. (See current zones here.)
So we have overcrowding and the idea of K-8 is an idea? REALLY people! BTES is K-6 and is just slightly over, so why isn’t ITMS 6-8? For starters. Then let’s say you rezone the schools. Well, guess what parents still get to choose and kids can stay where they are if they choose so nothing changes. The only real logical option is start monitoring the number of kids being taken by schools outside there zone so you don’t have 100+ extra kids in a school. And let things ballance out over the next few years. It blows my mind the things our school board comes up with and how they almost always choose the worst ideas possible. One things is for sure, kids and families are not considered when they make their decisions.
They seem to be completely missing the actual problem…..RES, WES, and BES need to be groomed into better schools so parents will not want to choice their kids into OKES and BTES!!!
Putting the 6th grade back into ITMS and BTMS seems like a viable option with the least amount of effort.
Flagler Teacher says
“Once a child is enrolled as a “choice” student at a particular school, that child may not be booted back to his or her home school, so a first grader who made it to Old Kings as a choice student must be allowed to complete the cycle through sixth grade there.”
This is not 100% correct. The child will not be “booted” due to overcrowding. However, attendance and behavior issues can (and have) resulted in school choice students being sent back to their zoned schools.
Flagler Teacher, thank you for that clarification.
Flagler Teacher says
Flagler Teacher says
To add to my previous reply…
The administrators TRIED to end school choice and were denied doing that by the superintendent who refused to let them close school choice.
These are facts.
Wadsworth is an awesome school!!! Its BUDDY Taylor that needs to be closed down!!!
Flagler Parent says
Private School before BES.
I/M/O there should be no Middle Schools. Just K-8 and then High School.
Why do we force children to adapt to a new environment at a Middle School? The whole idea is preposterous.
Convert all the schools to K-8.
Toni Soprano says
In defense of RES, people have not exactly done their homework. They were the ONLY school that did NOT go down a letter grade last year.
Flagler Citizen says
As someone who lives on the west side, I’m in favor of K-8. There’s a lot of research which shows that the transition to middle school is challenging, and when there are students who live a distance from the middle school, it’s harder for them to participate in the programs which enrich their education. Kids who attend k-8 perform better than kids who shift to middle school. There’s almost always a drop in grades, even for many well performing students, when they transition to a separate middle school.
On a personal note, having only two middle schools in all of Flagler County will not be feasible for a long time, even if it’s only not ideal for a fraction of the student population right now (my family and a number of other families who don’t live in the center of Palm Coast). We’re seeing population and industrial growth in Palm Coast. We really can’t believe that having two middle schools will continue to be sustainable. The K-8 plan will work for many of southern and western Flagler residents sooner than later, but as the county continues to grow, it would be a good option for many Flagler esidents rather than having to contend with the potential need to construct a whole new school.
If there is no room at the school then for crying out loud stop letting more students come on choice. Gee whiz this isn’t rocket science. If you have room you can let students come that are not zoned there but if there is no room then sorry people but you can’t come. What is all the fuss about. A two year old could figure out the solution to this probelem.
Melton Family says
Bunnell Elementary is a great school and has Awesome Teachers. It gets a bad rap do to it being located in Bunnell. The Gifted Elementary student go there and thrive. I have 3 students there and my 2 Brothers and I went there. It has smaller classroom sizes and Great Caring Teachers. All the schools have someone who have a particular issues whether its a teacher or anything else. As for rezoning nobody likes it but something has to give.
Is there some sort of vetting for students to go to another school – or do they just get to pick a new place just because? There should be some sort of reason that a student goes to another school. If the parent can prove they work closer to the school of choice, if there is a program offered at the school of choice that is not offered at the zoned school (like the IB program at FPC). It should not just be “because”. Plus, at what point to you start turning kids away – and at what point does that then become part of a corrupted system where it is who you know – not the ability or need of your kid.
On that note – when will Imagine get the money they are deserved? Has anyone looked into this? They get the shaft all the time from the SB.
Rezoning and a new school with existing empty seats? Get serious, end the ‘choice’ program immediately until the over-crowding is reduced by students moving on to middle school and do not start it again until the future student projections for the current districts can be handled. Working off 2008 projections is absurd, get some current numbers. In the meantime, management needs to get to work to figure out why the choice problem exists. What needs to be done to tune up the schools which are being passed by.
For those people who think k-8 is a good idea, please know you are ready to be on the school board. And must not have went to public school as a kid. Middle school is a growing step to get kids ready for high school. Being able to change classes, take special courses, gym, and so many other things make middle school a tool for growth and learning. One that can not be reached when crammed into a school with younger children. And then let me point out to those brains who are for k-8. This is an over crowding issue and moving more kids into a crowded building is down right foolish. If all the schools had only half what they could hold then fine put them together, but this is the opposite side of the coin we are dealing with.
I went to Wadsworth, then Buddy Taylor, then graduated from FPC. What’s wrong with Wadsworth that people aren’t choosing to go there? And when the heck did BTMS become 7-8 and not 6-8?
Debbie Grassano says
I agree. If they dent with the real issues, that the schools are terrible and need to be fixed, then parent would want too stay in their zoned schools. You can’t put a bandaid on a broken bone. It’s time the BOE fixed the issues in our schools instead of forcing children into a terrible situation just because they live in a certain part of town. Equal education and equal treatment for everyone!