- July 24, 2022
Flagler County’s School Board has a problem: Its adult education program and the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, which has the county’s only heated pool, are expected to lose a combined total of about $200,000 this year.
To School Board Member Trevor Tucker, the solution is obvious, if unpopular:
“To me, personally, we need to shut them both down,” he said after a presentation by Flagler Technical Institute head Kevin McCarthy at a Jan. 6 School Board meeting. “We don’t have the funds to retain these things. Either that or we need to double the fees for community education, or we need to double the fees for the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club. … I hope someone has some better ideas, because I don’t.”
The board is trying, but solutions aren’t easy to come by. Most of the money the board handles cannot be used for community education programs or for the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club because the state requires it to be used for k-12 education. And the School Board, unlike other local government bodies, cannot raise taxes to cover its costs without approval from the voters.
Community education, which used to be self-sustaining, is in bad financial shape: Revenue from July to December was $69,000, and costs were $117,000.
During the same six-month timeframe, membership revenue at the Swim and Racquet Club — the facility’s major funding source — was about $56,000. Operating costs were $125,000. Membership revenues for the pool declined about 65% since last year.
Meanwhile, the pool, which was built in 1979, is ailing.
Club members and members of the Flagler County Synchro Belles — a local synchronized swimming team of about 40 children, which has won national awards — have complained that the water in the pool is too cold because it isn’t being heated properly.
Club members and Synchro Belles members and staff who showed up at a Jan. 6 School Board meeting for a presentation about the facility said they’ve arrived at the pool and found the water as cold as 72 degrees, with no lifeguards and a sign that says “swim at your own risk,” and that the bathrooms are in disrepair and often left dirty.
There are no immediate plans to close the pool, and McCarthy said he was buying more propane to heat it and new covers so that it can be covered overnight to keep in warmth.
But those Band-Aid measures won’t work indefinitely, he said. The facility is old and needs repairs. The bare minimum needed, he said, would cost about $231,540. A more major overhaul would cost close to $1 million.
Flagler Schools Superintendent Jacob Oliva has been exploring public-private partnerships or partnerships with the city of Palm Coast or Flagler County for the club. The board at its Tuesday meeting touched on the possibility of forming a committee to consider options, though with the pool and community education both losing so much money so quickly, School Board member Sue Dickinson said it might be too late for a committee approach.
School Board member Andy Dance pointed out that the city’s Freida Zamba Swimming Pool can be heated, but is not, and Dickinson said the Swim and Racquet Club is serving more of a community purpose than a school district one, but that because it is operated by the school district instead of by the city of Palm Coast, it isn’t eligible to receive city parks and recreation money.
“If you look at impact fees, when a new home is built, we get how much? $1,500 for a new home,” Dickinson said. “The city of Palm Coast gets $6,900 for parks and recreation — just for parks and recreation — not for all the other things, but just for parks and recreation. That number by itself tells me who should be paying for this.” The school district will continue to operate the facility as it has been until it can find an answer, she said, “But folks, you have to understand that pennies don’t fall out of the sky for us. They’re just not there. And we can’t continue to spend money, because the next thing we’re going to have is every parent sitting in here saying, ‘Why are our children not getting the education that they’re supposed to be getting?’ So it’s our responsibility first to provide k-12 education.”
There was no vote on the Swim and Racquet Club or community education issue scheduled for Jan. 6, and they will come before the board again when board action is needed.
School Board Chairwoman Colleen Conklin said the board needs to come up with a financial plan on how it will making up the shortfall and make community education and the Swim and Racquet Club facility viable.
“We have a financial situation in front of us,” she said. “Over a $200,000 loss at the end of the year is exceptionally concerning to me. And at a future meeting, I would like to see exactly how we’re going to cover that. …We’ve got to come up with a long-term, sustainable solution for this, because what we have in front of us is not going to work long-term. This is a Band-Aid on something that is really hemorrhaging.”