Does Leon County Need a New $50 Million High School? If So, Where?

Does Leon County Need a New $50 Million High School? If So, Where?

The debate over the construction of a new high school in Leon County has begun.

Last year the headline in the Tallahassee Democrat said “Crowded Leon County may get a new high school.”

The article went on to say that “For years, classroom portables functioned as Band-Aids to overcrowding problems caused by steady hikes in student enrollment, but approval for a new high school could be just around the corner.”

Recently, Leon County School Board member Alva Striplin let her position be known at a meeting by saying she thinks a new high school needs to be located on the northside of Leon County.

Others, including Superintendent Jackie Pons, say a new high school is needed on the southside and would cost approximately $50 million.

But what do the numbers say?

Is there an overcrowding problem in Leon County that requires a new high school?

If so, where should it be located?

To begin answering these questions, TR turned to the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) database which provides great information on student enrollment.

Listed below is a graph of student enrollment in PK-12 Leon County Schools over the last five years.

Click on image to enlarge.


The graph for PK-12 enrollments shows that since the 2011-12 school year, Leon County Schools have added approximately 600 students. That is about a 1.8% increase over a five year period or 120 students per year.

At the state level, student enrollment increased by 4.6%,  just over 2.5 times as fast over the same time period.

What about growth in high school enrollment?

Data from the FDOE shows that over the last five years, Leon County High Schools have added approximately 535 students for a 5.9% increase. This is equal to about a 1.2% increase in high school enrollment per year or approximately 100 new high school students per year.

This also indicates that only 65 students have been added to PK-8 enrollment over the last five years.

Do these numbers warrant a new high school?

Hillsborough County  is another school district in Florida considering a new high school due to growth in enrollment.

However, Hillsborough’s K-12 growth is significantly higher than in Leon County over the last five years.

Total enrollment in Hillsborough increased 7.5% over the last five years compared to the 1.8% in Leon County.

High school enrollment in Hillsborough has increased 11.7% over the last five years compared to the 5.9% in Leon County.

However, growth in enrollment is not the only determining factor in building new schools. At times new schools are needed when population movement within a school district results in overcrowding in specific schools and unused space in others.

Is this occurring in Leon County? Lets look at current Leon County high school enrollment.

Three Leon County high schools – Lincoln, Leon and Chiles – are operating at or above capacity. The current enrollment for these schools fall between 2,000 and 2,200 students.

Lincoln is located in the eastern part of the district, while Chiles is located in the northeast part of Leon County. Leon High School is located in downtown Tallahassee.

However, two other high schools, Rickards and Godby,  are operating significantly below capacity. Enrollment information shows that Rickards serves 1,284 students and Godby serves 1,273 students.

Rickards is located on the south side of the school district and and Godby is located on the west side.

Unused capacity at these two schools would indicate that the district could serve between 400 and 800 additional high school students. Based on passed growth trends – adding about 100 new high school students each year – rezoning could delay construction of a new high school by 3-5 years.

However, this brings up re-zoning, which is a painful process for students, parents and elected officials.

Is it more painful than spending $50 million for a new high school? This is a question elected officials will be forced to answer.

In Hillsborough County, Cindy Stuart, a school board member addressed the issue. “I never want to say it, but it does have to be said because as good stewards of our tax dollars, we need to put kids where we have seats. Maybe not tonight or tomorrow, but we can realize savings by putting children in the seats we have available before we start spending large amounts of money.”

A first look at the information for the Leon County school district indicates three high schools operating at high capacity and two high schools are operating significantly below capacity.

There appears to be two options – rezoning or building a new high school. If elected leaders choose to build, the next question is where?

In our next report we will look at population trends within Leon County and try to provide information that might lead to an answer to the $50 million question?

17 Responses to "Does Leon County Need a New $50 Million High School? If So, Where?"

  1. A new high school is only a building, and as a building, will not provide a better education for anyone and should be built for one reason; overcrowding of the high school(s) serving a given area. Might be a good idea to ‘add on’ to an existing overcrowded high school, instead.

  2. Dr. Jackson,

    My comments were not meant as a knock on your business. I commend you, Kasper, Harrington, and whoever else that’s invested in those neighborhoods. I was simply pointing out the demographic and ‘quantity of kids’ changes. My parents, I’m sure wish they walked away with huge cash gains after the divorce and sale of the house, but from what I recall, that wasn’t quite the case.

  3. James, your story is a little off. As the homes in the southwest aged many of the families like yours sold their homes to investors for a huge profit. These families made a decision that it was in their best interest to take their huge cash gain and leave the neighborhood. I have spent 40 years buying these properties and rebuilding them. Unlike you, I didn’t take my profits and run, I reinvested my cash to make this neighborhood better. I strongly encourage you to bring cash back to these southwest neighborhoods and help me rebuild them. It takes a lot of hard work and if you are lucky you might make a profit in 10 or 20 years. I invite you to contact my office and I will give you a tour of my most recent purchases and we will see if you think they look better after they are remodeled. I might even take you out to lunch. I don’t want you to live one more day being so miss informed.

  4. Ok, here you go, first hand experience. Prior to ohh, 1995 or so, the South West/student side was much more balanced in terms of middle class and ethnicity representation. I lived off of Jackson Bluff Rd for about half of my childhood, in the 80’s and then again in the late 90’s while in college. As a child, the neighborhoods were filled mostly with awesome nuclear families, whereas from the 90’s onward, the families moved on (at least those that were up-sizing or could afford, etc). Keep in mind the houses were relatively old at that point and smaller compared to what since then is considered a modest home. As those families left due to kids growing up and older folks leaving earth, of course in come the Jackson’s of the world that buy up all the houses and now rent to college students or lower income, section 8 types. All of this lead to Belle Vue MS closing as well as Caroline Brevard ES, and thus, Godby with perpetual under enrollment, and yes, those that can finagle or afford it going else where. This has pretty much happened all around Godby. Off of Tharpe and into the Astoria area, etc. As for Rickards, I think people have left because they changed their mascot to a Raider.

  5. Political move for Superintendent Pons Gets him south side voter support and business owner $$$ support from all the entities that will be awarded contracts for this project. Same ol crap Leon County. Rosemary is correct.

  6. Jackie Pons used the southside high school issue in his first campaign to solidify support of black voters. I wasn’t the least bit surprised when he didn’t do anything about it in 8 years and then brought it up last fall. What does surprise me is how others allow him to pander in this way with impunity.

    Rickards in the last eight years is still old, and still cramped. But it is much more effective and much less fairly described as substandard than it ever has been.

    Decisions on school building should be done strictly on accurate projections of current need and future needs. I’d go so far as to suggest that if candidates are going to talk about a new high school, they need to identify the decision matrix first, and only then talk about where.

  7. If it were left to me, I would sell existing public schools & privatize all education. But since it isn’t and such a sensible idea would not be received by the general populace for a long time, why not experiment with using our current facilities on a split schedule?

    Before moving to Tallahassee I attended public schools in a large metropolitan area in New York State which split school schedules. Some students attended school from 08:00 TO 12:00 noon while others attended classes from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M.

    Beside the obvious savings for taxpayers, there are many other advantages for working parents who could adjust to a larger variety of schedules.

  8. So why are they talking about building a new high school where the current one is under capacity? That seems exactly the logical opposite to what they should be doing. And just go ahead and try rezoning, I dare you.

  9. Bob Fulford, Vic and Jane all truly understand the problems that we face in the bureaucracy and corruption at all levels that will drive this decision.
    In my forty plus years in Tallahassee, the zoning of schools has been an unmitigated disaster for students and neighborhoods. I totally understand why parents send their children to private schools.
    As they say, “Follow the money” and you will understand how this decision will be made.

  10. As a parent of 2 kids who will soon be in High School I’d like to see more resources focused on our magnet/IB programs so more parents would consider sending their best and brightest into these schools rather than avoid them. We’re doing our brightest kids a disservice by not being able to attract the best and brightest to places such as Fairview and Rickards because too many parents in Leon county are afraid to send their kids there.

    1. Lisa, the only reason Rickards has a magnet/IB program is to attract enough literate students to raise the “score” of the school. Leon county busses in students from all over the county to make that school look like it is performing, it is just a numbers game. I would not let my daughter attend that school for any reason.

  11. In your next report consider the impact of race on the decision. Lot more here than meets the eye.

    And examine the issue of students zoned for Godby and Rickards who attend the other three high schools or opt for private schools.

    The folks who will make money off new construction will fight hard for new construction. And it’s the nature of that ilk to not care where it’s spent so coopt them by agreeing to the spending. Then consider this. Drop half of the $50M on each Godby and Rickards and turn those schools into palaces of learning. Fill them with the best labs, studios and teachers available. Think large.

  12. Since the three main boards in Leon County, City and County and the School Board, are made up of tax and spend liberals, we know what they will do. I give you Gaines Street, Cascades Park and a $7 Million Dollar foot bridge. The only question is, where they will locate the $70 Million Dollar boondoggle.

  13. Currently, children are bussed all over Leon County. Also, children from sourounding counties with poor schools attend Leon County Schools, at Leon County taxpayers expense. It does not matter where a new high school is built. If it is built on the South side, students from Wakulla county will fill it up, if built on the West side, students from Gadsden County will fill it up. Every day, I see high school students getting on CITY busses to go home, outside of the school zone. However, I am exceedingly happy that my youngest child will be a senior, because if I had it to do all over again, I’m not sure that I would have allowed my children to attend public schools. I believe that some of these kids (and parents) are so vile and perverse, that future “good” kids won’t be attending public school. The parents are such ninnys, and politically correct, that those who have money will be going to private schools. To keep students safe and mitigate offensive behaviors, the schools of the future will be in small groups in front of a computer…or at home since robots will take their parents jobs. Build your high school, because I am taking my property tax money to a county where the school board doesn’t control 1/2 of my property tax.

  14. Rezoning, while difficult and unpopular, especially when students are shifted to undesirable schools, can happen gradually over time as students progress from middle school to high school.

    This way, you are not taking students out of their current schools. Students moving from middle to high school will do so with (a portion) of their friends.

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