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Elementary School Proximity Project making progress

By Staff | Aug 13, 2020

By MEGHAN BRADBURY

news@breezenewspapers.com

A plan to address projected student growth and related facility needs — preferably much closer to home — is moving forward.

The School Board of Lee County, during a Aug. 7 workshop, received an update concerning the “Elementary School Proximity Project,” which set to come before the public in November.

The goal of the plan is to shrink the school choice option to four to six closest elementary schools to their home, instead of more than a dozen. For example, in the East Zone, subzone two, there are 17 elementary schools and more than a dozen in the subzone two for the south and west zones.

From March to May 2020, Davis Demographics gathered data, as well as compiled a 10 year forecast for the Lee County School District.

Davis Demographics Senior Project Manager David Kaitz said starting in June they ran their first scenarios with the core group of district staff and in the last month, July and August, they have expanded and now have presented with the entire stakeholders group, which consists of 20 to 25 people. In early August they presented to another group, a 25- member community stakeholder group, which will have a few more members added.

“Our next meeting with both of those groups will be in about two weeks,” Kaitz said. “We will be unveiling our first scenarios of the proximity plan and that will start the next few months of finalizing our scenarios.”

They will present the scenarios to the full general public in November.

In January 2021, the goal is to revise the scenarios with 10-year forecast, followed by presentation to the public of the revised maps in March 2021 and a final boundary recommendation to the school board in July 2021.

The estimated growth for the 10 year Lee County forecast is 10,262 new pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students through 2029 with an overall growth of 11.9 percent. When breaking down that growth it equates to 3,678 pre-kindergarten through 12th grade growth in the east zone, 3,411 pre-kindergarten through 12th grade growth in the south zone and 3,173 pre-kindergarten through 12th grade growth in the west zone.

“All of this is in align with what you have experienced over the last 10 years,” Kaitz said.

The areas that are really growing are Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres and South Fort Myers. The current student count for K-5 in Cape Coral is 9,034 students. In 2029 that number is projected to grow to 10,245 students. South Fort Myers has 2,137 K-5 students with a projected growth to 2,496 students. Lehigh Acres currently has 9,125 K-5 students with a projected growth to 9,882 students.

Kaitz explained when looking at the projected growth they looked at units built in the last five years of certain housing types, such as single family homes and apartments, to determine which ones yielded students. He said they determined which would be senior citizen housing, and which ones would not be.

“There is a percentage tracker of a certain amount of kids generated from those homes,” Kaitz explained, adding that when a 10 year-forecast is made, it is a guess. “There are projects that are not on the books right now, that could show up. We do updates every fall.”

When parents move around the district, those trends are updated as well in the fall.

As far as COVID-19 playing an impact on the projections, Kaitz said it is too soon to tell. Although the construction has not slowed down since the pandemic, the sales took a dip for a period.

“The City of Fort Myers has showed that there is a rebound now of people buying,” Kaitz said.

The criteria of the data they are looking at for future proximity zones was also shared, which includes the FSA level, or test scores, language proficiency, free and reduced lunch status and special day classes.

The areas were broken down from 12 areas to 22 of planning communities.

The highest free and reduced lunch qualification area is North Fort Myers with 60.7 percent, compared to the district-wide of 50.2 percent. The community that scored the lowest, a one, on the FSA 2019 test was Fort Myers with 22.3 percent, compared to the district average of 16 percent.

Bonita Springs has highest percentage for language proficiency in the area with 30.4 percent and North Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres and Fort Myers has the highest for free and reduced lunch qualified, according to Kaitz .

The number is a federal income standard; all children can receive free meals at school in Lee County.

Other criteria examined was in regards to equity and diversity issues through the Housing and Affordability index.

“If something is around 100 it is just affordable, anything above 100 is more affordable and anything below 100 is less affordable,” Kaitz said. “The district wide average is 106, which means right around Estero (105), Cape Coral (106) is right around the district wide average level. North Fort Myers (172), Lehigh Acres (155) area is the most affordable. The highest part of the district is no surprise, your island areas, Sanibel (75), Fort Myers Beach (70) and Boca Grande (72) are the lesser affordable areas.”

Another indicator is the percentage of income that goes to their mortgage.

“When you get more than 30 percent your getting into the danger zone. Fifteen to 25 percent is the common/affordable ranges,” Kaitz said. “There is a correlation obviously with the more affordable there is lower percentage going to those mortgages.”

The presentation also included examples of socio economic data, which included median household income. In 2019, the median household income for Cape Coral is $55,096, compared to the district wide average of $55,462. The projected median household income for 2024 is $61,170, compared to district wide total of $61,647.

The median home value in Cape Coral is $247,385 in 2019, compared to a district wide median of $249,170. In 2024, those values are expected to grow to $276,680 in Cape Coral and $279,591 for a district wide median home value.

The more diverse areas of the district are Lehigh Acres and Fort Myers. The district wide average is 52.1 percent with it becoming more diverse over the next 10 years to 61.2 percent.

Kaitz said the goal is to have smaller proximity zones to cut down on transportation while doing the best to achieve equity and diversity in the smaller regions.