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Smoke and Mirrors: Flagler Population Growth, School Enrollment, Funding and Impact Fees

OMG, 137 apartments!! 13 more students!! The sky is falling!! It’s not falling, but a Chicken Little strategy will leave voters deaf to real school funding needs that will arise in the future.

By Toby Tobin
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PALM COAST, FL – December 24, 2017 – You can’t make this stuff up. A request to change the zoning on an 11.33-acre parcel on Old Kings Rd north of SR 100 that was zoned high-intensity commercial to multi-family residential zoning drew the ire of several homeowners, none of whom lived within 1.5 miles of the subject parcel. Now, some members of the School Board are piling on.

The Spin

In a December 22nd Daytona Beach News-Journal article entitled “Growing enrollment challenges Flagler Schools,” the multi-family rezoning decision is used to highlight a perceived shortfall in impact fees needed to build schools that will be required in the future. The article quotes board members Colleen Conklin and Maria Barbosa as well as board attorney Kristy Gavin and Director of Plant Services David Freeman.

The “sky is falling” talk begins with the modest estimate of an additional 13 students that would be created by a 136-unit multi-family development. The property owners do not intend to develop the parcel. They are simply positioning it for sale. Any subsequent development would be done by a future buyer. The property is not currently under contract. It will be at least two years before the school would be impacted by any apartments or condominiums.

But the door was opened for a wider enrollment/growth discussion. What would happen if the 16,623 undeveloped lots within the original Palm Coast master plan were developed, creating an estimated 5,519 additional students? The $3,600 impact fees collected for each new single-family home would not be enough to pay for all the additional schools. After all, Conklin says the student population has more than doubled since 2000.

The Truth

By 2007, the school population had doubled to 12,746 full-time equivalents (FTE) students from the year 2000 enrollment. During that period, Flagler County and the City of Palm Coast were the fastest growing county and fastest growing city in the nation respectively for two consecutive years. We were the poster child of the real estate bubble and collapse. It’s unlikely that we will repeat that feat.

Since 2007, enrollment has fluctuated, reaching a high of 13,054 FTEs in 2011. By spring 2017, it was slightly lower at 12,868, a whopping 0.96% growth over ten years. Meanwhile, the county population rose 30% from 88,078 in July 2007 to 108,310 in July 2016.


Flagler County School Enrollment


Flagler County population growth

Flagler schools have about 2,000 unoccupied classroom seats, nearly 16% excess capacity. It’s not a coincidence that there has been no new school construction for several years while our area saw three large adult living facilities (ALF) spring up recently. At least one more is in the planning stages. Granted, school choice and school zone boundaries rule out 100% utilization, but we should not sound alarm bells while we still have 2,000 unfilled seats.

While school enrollment remained stalled for ten years, approximately 4,500 new home building permits were issued. Let me say that again for emphasis. 4,500 new homes were permitted while student enrollment remained roughly unchanged. This new home construction generated more than $16M in school impact fees. The current rate of new home construction will yield well over $3M in school impact fees annually.

Freeman suggests that the current formula that ties enrollment growth projections to population growth may not be accurate, given that projections in a retirement community would be far different than for a working-class community.


Flagler’s schools are among the best in the state. They have been deservedly noticed by those well beyond our county boundaries. The schools’ innovative programs brought attention upon former district superintendent Jacob Oliva, resulting in his January 2017 appointment to Executive Vice Chancellor for K-12 at the Florida Department of Education.

More recently, the district was part of the eighth Americas Competitiveness Exchange (ACE) six-day tour of North-Central Florida. The visit highlighted Flagler’s Flagship Academies where students get hands-on learning experiences in Health Science, Firefighting, Engineering, Aerospace, Marine Sciences, Green Technology, Finance, Business, and Computer Science.

Certainly, the district will continue to be faced with funding challenges going forward; those brought on by Tallahassee as well as those resulting from population growth. Some of these challenges will be addressed through ballot initiatives where voters will have the final say.

What are the Life Cycle Costs of Impact Fees?

Chances of voter support for future funding initiatives are not enhanced by raising a public kerfuffle over a possible apartment complex that could increase total district enrollment by 13 students. Nor is it enhanced by a lack of transparency such as glossing over the fact that school enrollment has been essentially static over the past ten years while the $3,600 school impact fee assessed for each new single-family building permit remains unchanged.

Hold off on “the sky is falling” rhetoric until it IS falling. A Chicken Little strategy will leave voters deaf to real school funding needs that are likely to arise in the future.

The board should ask for a review of school impact fees. What is the current relationship between new residential construction and school enrollment? What is the proper balance between the 2008 legislation allowing mandated spending by developers and the current impact fee structure?

The district is currently seeking a buyer for its unused property at 1 Corporate Drive. They should also evaluate the possibility of selling its prime 20-acre parcel with frontage on A1A and the Intracoastal Waterway north of Harbor Village Marina. The school district should not be in the real estate investment business.

Note to NIMBYs Re; Old Kings Rd Rezoning

Are you aware that the new zoning designation, which you fought, allows only 12 residential units per acre? High-Intensity Commercial, the parcel’s former designation, encourages uses that focus on automobile sales and service, outdoor storage, and heavy traffic. Just saying.

Toby Tobin: REALTOR®, SRES®

I am a REALTOR® licensed by the State of Florida and Seniors Real Estate Specialist, SRES®, with Grand Living Realty, now helping fellow aged 50+ buyers and sellers achieve improved outcomes in real estate transactions by integrating them with other age-related decisions/plans through my broad network of respected service providers; financial, wills, trusts, probate, insurance, healthcare, home services, recreation, lifestyle, estate planning, and adult living facilities.

Take advantage of my "Been there. Done that." experience, typically at no additional cost to you. Call me at (386) 931-7124 or email me at Toby@GoToby.com.

reader comments
Don't be so dramatic . . .
Posted by Colleen Conklin
Dec 28, 2017, 12:21 pm
Hold on a second - no one said or ACTED as though the sky was failing. Let's not be so overdramatic. The concern was that an apartment complex with 137 apartments was approved a 1/4 of a mile from Old Kings Elementary School which is actually over 100% capacity. I specifically had a question about the calculation of 13 students from a 137 apartment complex. I believe only 3 were expected to be of elementary school age. I called nonsense. I thought the number was exceptionally low and asked why. The answer to the question brought us to the VERY outdated Impact Fee study. Toby Tobin and anyone else interested in this issue I would respectfully ask that they listen to the ENTIRE meeting and not take things out of context. This article is very misleading, falsely creating an issue where none may exist. The bottom line is we will need to update the study at some point if we are going to correct and update the formula these calculations are based on. Updating the study does not automatically call for an increase in impact fees but it would update the formula to reflect our community today and not the retirement community those numbers were based on back in 03-04. Everyone take a deep breath! The sky is not failing!
Reply to Colleen
Posted by Toby
Dec 28, 2017, 7:23 am
Actually, you echo many of my concerns. 1. Using outdated methods of predicting enrollment changes 2. Inaccurate press coverage. -- I did not take the article out of context and unfortunately, most readers read the article but did not listen to the audio of the meeting. So, we are left with the article "as is." If your quote that enrollment had doubled since 2000, was not misquoted, I still take issue with ignoring the fact that enrollment has been unchanged for 10 years. All the growth was during the bubble years and does not reflect recent trends. We have a great school system. I don't think informed voters will fail to support the schools. Prepare them by telling the very true story of your successes. It's called "selling and marketing." What the article implies is not selling.or marketing. It's propaganda.
Run! Toby Run!
Posted by David Alfin
Dec 27, 2017, 9:06 pm
Will you run for School Board? A seat in your district will be voted in November.
Just Saying.....
Posted by Richard J.K.
Dec 27, 2017, 9:06 pm
And should you, as a Real Estate Agent, who might make some good commissions on the sale or rental of these properties be dissing the school district about funding? To keep our schools among the best in the state requires money for inovations,quality staff.equipment,etc.

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Don "Toby" Tobin is a licensed real estate professional affiliated with Grand Living Realty. Toby is a member of the Flagler County Association of Realtors®, the Florida Association of Realtors, Enterprise Flagler, Flagler Home Builders Association, and the National Association of Realtors.

GoToby.com proivdes real estate news, commentary, and analysis for Palm Coast and Flagler Country Florida, as well as Realtor® referrals and consultation to buyers, sellers, and developers.