Opposing sides clash as Newberry charter voting opens

Voting opens on Friday to determine whether three Newberry public schools will convert into charters.
Voting opens on Friday to determine whether three Newberry public schools will convert into charters.
Photos by Glory Reitz

Voting opens on Friday to determine whether three Newberry public schools will convert into charters. 

Since a 501(c)(4) called Education First for Newberry (EFN) announced its plans in February to call for the vote at Newberry Elementary School, Oak View Middle School and Newberry High School, the community has been split on the issue. 

Immediately after the announcement, citizens of Archer began airing concerns that their children would be pushed out of the schools if they converted. The Archer City Commission issued a resolution opposing the charter initiative in March. 

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One of EFN’s stated goals was to get rid of overcrowding by decreasing enrollment, but the organization also promised automatic acceptance to all current students and all residents of Archer or Newberry. 

EFN has now amended its solution to overcrowding, saying it would increase capacity instead of decreasing enrollment, in an attempt to address the community’s concerns about inclusion. 

A group of community members and parents called Save Our Schools (SOS) Newberry formed in response to the charter conversion initiative, pushing back on EFN’s budget and complaining that the initiative was started in the dark. EFN members filed with the state in December 2023 but did not announce the initiative until February, at the same time they launched a 60-day window to finish voting. 

Beginning Friday, polls will be open at each school. Each student’s household gets one vote per school they have a student in, and at least half of the parents at each must vote for the conversion to succeed.  

Teachers get a separate vote in the conversion, weighted equally to the parent vote. Any teacher’s failure to vote is automatically counted as a “no” vote. 

Polls will close over the weekend and reopen April 8-12. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by April 12 and received no later than April 16, as votes will be counted on April 17. 

If either the parent or teacher vote fails at any school, that school will remain with Alachua County Public Schools. If a school successfully converts and fails at some point in the future, it will revert back to the school district. 

Converted schools would remain the property of ACPS, but the charter organization would be responsible for operations, staff, utilities and all other portions of the budget. 

EFN released its proposed budget about two weeks ago, after assistance and review from city of Newberry staff. The budget immediately received pushback from SOS and ACPS on items such as transportation, food services and staff payment. 

EFN has acknowledged that it will lose money on transportation, as the state provides $560 per student for transportation, and the real cost is closer to $1,000. State statute requires that transportation not be a barrier to any student’s education, and the group says it has accounted for the gap in its budget. 

Though EFN used the option of contracted bus services to study its plan’s feasibility, the group says contractors are not the only option if the schools convert. 

“We have done the research and we know we can provide the same level and better transportation to all students who need it because the parents behind this initiative have made transportation a top priority,” the EFN website states. 

Food service has been another item of contention, as EFN has said it plans to run its own food services. ACPS said it received word from the state that if the conversion charters run their own food service programs, the district must remove all its food service equipment. 

District spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said food service employees took an inventory and discovered that it would cost $889, 617 to replace the equipment at the three schools, including freezers, ovens, dish machines and other equipment. 

On Tuesday, SOS Newberry representatives filed an ethics complaint against the Newberry mayor and a Newberry commissioner. The representatives said the city officials discussed the charter initiative outside a public meeting, violating sunshine laws. 

The group also said the mayor abused his authority by directing city staff to assist in the creation of EFN’s proposed budget. 

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SOS Newberry was spearheaded by Gainesville partisan political activists. Not a grassroots Newberry org.


Not true