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Growth and schools: Are schools protected from overdevelopment?

Parent pickup — Parents line up at the end of a recent school day to collect their children from Freedom Elementary School at 1395 S. Blue Lake Ave. in DeLand. Residents who object to new neighborhoods cropping up near the school say Freedom is becoming overwhelmed. Officially, however, it isn’t overcrowded.

Parent pickup — Parents line up at the end of a recent school day to collect their children from Freedom Elementary School at 1395 S. Blue Lake Ave. in DeLand. Residents who object to new neighborhoods cropping up near the school say Freedom is becoming overwhelmed. Officially, however, it isn’t overcrowded.

BEACON PHOTO/ERIKA WEBB

Are schools protected from overdevelopment?

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles looking at how DeLand’s subdivision explosion, particularly on the city’s southeast side, affects the community at large. Roads and traffic, schools, amenities, wildlife, utilities and more will be explored.

 

With rooftops multiplying rapidly in southeast DeLand, opponents of the development have asked about the effect on area schools, particularly Freedom Elementary at 1395 S. Blue Lake Ave.

If the growth causes school overcrowding, who will pay for the needed expansion?

So far, according to the Volusia County School District, overcrowding is not a concern at the schools attended by children who live in southeast DeLand now, nor the ones who will move into neighborhoods on the drawing board.

The Volusia County Charter has a safeguard against growth overwhelming schools. The charter mandates that development may occur only if schools can handle the resulting population increase.

But how is the impact measured? Currently, the standard — agreed upon by the local governments and the School Board — is 115-percent capacity, explained School District Planning Director Saralee Morrissey.

So, a school designed for 1,000 students can have 15 percent more — 1,150 — before the brakes are applied to building plans.

Morrissey explained that, in Florida, the Department of Education must approve a school district’s plan to build more schools based on growth.

“[T]hose student numbers must, in part, already exist and show into the future that the need for the new school will be justified and sustainable. So, if a school’s permanent capacity is 1,000 student stations, then it must be at 1,151 students to be over the level-of-service standard,” Morrissey said.

In July, the Volusia County School District told builder D.R. Horton that its plan for 612 new homes in one of the latest projects, Victoria Oaks, would not tip the scales.

The new neighborhood, school officials said, could generate 187 full-time students, which wouldn’t pose a problem for either Freedom or Blue Lake elementary schools.

“Blue Lake Elementary enrollment is below 100-percent permanent capacity,” Morrissey said. “Freedom is at 772 of 782 total permanent student stations, very near to 100-percent permanent capacity.”

Blue Lake, built for 703 students, had 650 for the 2016-17 school year.

The School Board’s formulas for determining whether schools are adequate trump any opinions or personal anecdotes.

When the DeLand Planning Board considered in November whether to approve Victoria Oaks, they weren’t allowed to consider statements made by residents who said parents and teachers have told them Freedom Elementary School is “overwhelmed.”

Only “expert” testimony — such as Morrissey’s letter to D.R. Horton — could be considered in deciding whether the development poses a problem for schools, City Attorney Darren Elkind told Planning Board members.

When plans for Victoria Park were first approved in 1999, the school district, the developer and the cities of DeLand and Lake Helen agreed that the effect on schools would be assessed in five years.

If that assessment showed the development had been contributing or was projected to add 546 or more elementary-school students, the developer (then the St. Joe Co.) would have been required to find and donate a 20-acre site for a new elementary school.

That wasn’t required.

“At that time, the projection was less than that,” Morrissey said.

With fewer than 546 new students expected when Victoria Park’s 4,000 or so homes are finished, the developer is required to pay only impact fees of $3,000 per home.   

According to budget documents, the school system expects $4 million in impact-fee income each year over the next five years. During those five years, the school system plans to spend between $25 million and $53 million each year for school expansions and other capital improvements.

— Erika Webb, erika@beacononlinenews.com

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