The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) bought itself another month to finish a comprehensive rezoning of Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) on Tuesday. After debating whether to pause, delay or continue the process at its current pace, the board chose to push its final vote back from Dec. 5 to Jan. 15 for new zoning to take effect in the 2024-25 school year.
Board Member Leanetta McNealy said she has long been a supporter of rezoning efforts, though she voted against turning spot rezoning into comprehensive rezoning in April. When the first reading of the comprehensive rezoning came up Tuesday night, McNealy announced her opposition to going forward at the planned pace.
“I feel strongly that at this point, with all of the other priorities that we need to do in the next couple of months, we are not ready for the 24-25 comprehensive rezoning change,” McNealy said. She asked to pause the process and take the time to carefully consider the large amounts of citizen input the district has already gathered.
Board Member Sarah Rockwell agreed the timeline may need to be pushed back, possibly to the 2025-26 school year, saying she shared concerns about the lack of data and answers to citizens’ questions.
Rockwell said the SBAC originally had three reasons for comprehensive rezoning: balancing enrollment at overcrowded and under-enrolled schools, saving money and balancing socio-economic diversity. After the board looked at newly available projected enrollment for a workshop Monday, Rockwell said she had concerns about the schools that would remain overcrowded after rezoning, and persistently low-achieving students.
“I do not want to stop rezoning, I want us to continue working on it,” Rockwell said. “Because at this point in time, the proposal shown to us right now does not accomplish any of the goals that we set out to reach.”
Rockwell said she would rather slow down the rezoning process and work on it simultaneously with efforts to improve achievement.
Board Chair Tina Certain said the district has already incurred costs to get to this point with rezoning, and that it needs to finish the process to put cost savings into action.
“There are a lot of impacts on our budget that rezoning would likely address,” Certain said. “But just to say we’re going to consider costs but then to make no action, that’s not going to help the budget.”
Board Member Diyonne McGraw said the community is not ready for the rezoning change yet, because the worries parents and other citizens have brought before the board have not yet been addressed.
The most recent elementary school zoning map was updated for an Oct. 4 meeting, while the current maps for middle and high schools are from Sept. 26. The board had the first reading of the proposed zoning on Tuesday, but the maps can continue to change until the final hearing, which was originally scheduled for Dec. 5.
SBAC attorney David Delaney told the board they have a 90 day window after the first hearing to complete the rulemaking process. If it fails to approve the zoning within that timeframe, it will need to begin the 90 day process again with a new first hearing.
ACPS staff attorney Susan Seigle said the timeline allows a little more flexibility than the board had planned on, giving them until Jan. 15 to make the final decision. Delaney agreed, but pointed out that if the board wanted more time and started the process over again, it could cause practical problems as staff try to prepare for the next school year based on these new zones.
After some confusion, and a 3-2 vote against the original timeline, the board unanimously passed the first reading of the comprehensive rezoning, setting the public hearing for 6 p.m. on Nov. 14. There was no change to the original motion other than the board’s intention to move the second reading and final vote to Jan. 15.
“I never in my life would like to begin something and not end it in a positive manner,” McNealy said. “But what I am going to say is, to my colleagues and to the citizens here tonight, that if we move to go to January with Attorney Siegel’s date, I will bring it back up again in January that we will not go forward with it if it’s not right.”
Taylor Gilfillan, a former director of data analytics, accountability and evaluation for ACPS said he was disappointed in the board for taking 10 months to realize something was off.
“If you’re asking to pause this, you’re not asking for more time. You’re asking for leadership,” Gilfillan told the board, saying that only 33% of district staff believe leadership follows through on its projects, according to a survey in the spring.
Several parents who spoke at the meeting disagreed with Gilfillan, commending the board for taking the time to make sure the final zones will be carefully planned, with citizen input considered.
Rochelle George called into the meeting to give the board her input. She said comprehensive rezoning is a large project with many moving parts and unforeseen complications, and that staff needs the time to process those parts thoroughly.
“It hasn’t been done in 40 years, what is the rush?” George said. “I… feel like this pause is based on the fact that board members actually listened to parents at input meetings.”