IMAGE COURTESY VOLUSIA COUNTY SCHOOLS WEST VOLUSIA SCHOOLS — This chart shows the current and expected capacity of elementary, middle and high schools on the west side of Volusia County. The second column shows the enrollment in schools for the 2021-22 school year, while the third and fourth columns indicate how full the schools currently are. “Reserved capacity,” in the fifth column, is the number of students expected to enroll in each school from already-built development projects. The final column shows the total number of students, both enrolled and expected, factoring for those future students.

West Volusia just keeps growing, leading many to wonder if the schools can handle it. Volusia County Schools says yes.

“We’re coming closer to schools being near capacity, but we haven’t gotten there yet. We haven’t had to have those hard conversations,” said Steven Grube, director of planning and construction for Volusia County Schools. “But we have the steps in place to have those conversations and do mitigation and negotiations.”

Grube and Volusia County Schools Planning Coordinator Stephanie Doster spoke at a recent DeLand City Commission meeting to dispel concerns that schools are over capacity and unable to support new housing developments. 

Three of West Volusia’s schools are above 100-percent capacity, but none have broken the 115-percent threshold the Florida Department of Education considers cause for worry.

The over-capacity schools are Citrus Grove Elementary in DeLand and Orange City Elementary School and University High School in Orange City.

In its presentation to DeLand commissioner, the school district’s point was this: Some schools are beginning to fill up, but none are so full that there’s cause for panic.

When it comes time to do something about overcrowded schools, the school district has a number of tools, from shuffling students to less-crowded schools by changing school boundaries, to using impact fees collected from developers to build new schools.

The school district works years ahead of time to predict school capacity, using complicated algorithms and input from the Florida Department of Education, local governments and others.

“The district consults with DOE and professional demographers, along with tracking new residential construction projects, to project student growth,” Doster told The Beacon. “Our projection numbers were 99.97 percent accurate last year. Our future student projection number was only off by 17 students districtwide.”

The school district works closely with Volusia County and local municipalities to determine where new housing is planned. Along with the payment of impact fees, a signed approval from the school district — saying new homes won’t overflow existing schools — are required as part of the screening process to get a development project off the ground.

“City planners, county planners and school-board planners all work together, because this is one of the crucial elements for driving our economy,” Volusia County Director of Growth and Resource Management Clay Ervin told The Beacon. “At least in that way, we can make sure we’re coordinating to make sure we put the tools in the planners hands.”

Planning is done using math to determine how many children a development may produce over time. The formulas determine the “student-generation rate.” A single-family home, for instance, has a student-generation rate of 0.273, while a multi-family home has a student-generation rate of 0.127.

The student-generation rate corresponds to how many “butts in seats” a single-family unit produces, Doster explained. The figure averages out single-family homes across a housing development, accounting for childless homes.

Volusia County is growing faster on the west side than it is on the east side of the county, too. Asked why that is, Ervin said the type of development is just different.

“What we’re observing is that, on the east side, you have certain communities such as Ormond, Port Orange, they’ve got relatively limited green space for new development. They’re nearing their build-out areas,” he said. “The west has been discovered. DeLand is a popular location, Deltona is also popular. If you start looking at the prices of housing in Seminole or Orange County, you can come over here and get more land, more house, for your dollar.”

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