The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) will proceed with a slightly reduced payment to Santa Fe College in the articulation agreement which allows Alachua County students to take Santa Fe classes through dual enrollment. Board members expressed concern about overpaying Santa Fe, but prioritized the resources students receive.
The SBAC’s chosen reduction only chops the school district’s current payment to SF by 10%, retaining most services already included in the agreement and saving the school district nearly $150,000.
Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) has been paying Santa Fe 95% of the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) funding it receives, coming to $1,550,541 in a year. State law only requires the school district to pay a standard per-credit-hour fee which would have amounted to $1,158,454, so ACPS has been making up the difference of almost $400,000 to receive “white glove” treatment, according to SBAC Chair Tina Certain.
Certain said the issue was one of several that came up in a December budget meeting, and she, Superintendent Shane Andrew and former chief of teaching and learning Jennifer Wise have been attempting to revamp the articulation agreement since then.
In February, Certain said she asked Jen Homard, SF’s executive director of secondary programs, to create three alternatives for ACPS to consider as it tries to revise its agreement with SF to fit the budget. When the district’s contract with SF expired on June 30, SF had still not created those options, Certain said. This left the board a month away from the start of school, still needing to figure out an agreement with SF for the fall semester.
“It appears that this has been slow walked,” Certain said. “And we, as a board, are kind of in a corner where we have to continue on at the same levels.”
Andrew sent the board an email on July 12, providing a list of recommended options for proceeding in the new contract with SF. The options were to reduce spending from 95% to 85%, 75%, 83%, or a bare minimum of 67%.
The more reduced the rate, the more responsibility for services fell to the high schools instead of SF. The third option would take away lunches for 30 students, according to Board Member Diyonne McGraw.
Several members of the school board complained that they did not have enough forewarning or information on the topic to make an informed decision about how to proceed Tuesday, because while Certain was on the budget committee that had been looking at the problem for more than half a year, the other board members still had unanswered questions.
“I don’t want to feel rushed to make a decision,” McGraw said, suggesting that an important issue such as this should have a noticed meeting set aside for its discussion. “I’m about saving money for the district, but I just think it’s not enough information for us to make a decision tonight.”
Board members Sarah Rockwell and McGraw wanted to know if a lowered rate would still cover textbook costs for dual-enrolled students. The established system where the district buys textbooks and rents them for free is impaired by textbooks that come with or through single-use online access codes. Rockwell said if the reduced fee to SF no longer covered instructional materials, the district may not actually be saving money.
ACPS had 476 high school students enrolled at SF in spring 2023, according to Certain. Of the district’s schools, Buchholz High School (BHS) has the most dual-enrolled students, so Certain said she talked to the Buchholz administration about their experience with SF and found that the BHS counselor was still handling registration, scheduling and other services that the district pays SF to provide.
“I feel the district is paying twice for service,” Certain said.
Kim Neal, director of FTE, said SF’s counselors are involved and communicative in the situation, but there may be a lack of clarity about what responsibilities belong to the college and what belongs to the high schools.
Rockwell, a former academic adviser at SF, said she has seen what dual enrollment counselors deal with and it is complicated—too complicated to drop the funding and leave high school counselors with the full burden, especially less than a month before school starts.
Board members also discussed equity issues in dual enrollment but noted that students must meet college-readiness requirements to qualify for dual enrollment, so the equity problem needs to be addressed at an earlier stage. Andrew said he wants to get more college readiness teachers on high school campuses, preparing the students so they can reach opportunities like dual enrollment.
“I think the job of our district is to educate kids K-12, and we’re not doing that well,” Board Member Kay Abbitt said. “And so, sitting here having an hour conversation about college credit just blows my mind.”
Certain and other board members agreed with Abbitt’s concern for K-12 education, especially in light of teacher shortages, low district test scores and reading levels. However, Certain stressed the importance of saving money to salvage a strained budget.
“If the pleasure of this board, the majority of the board is to continue to overpay, we do that,” Certain said. “But we have to realize, and I’m gonna repeat again, how are we going to pay for these things?”
Abbitt moved to proceed with an 85% rate agreement with SF, maintaining all existing services, and the motion passed unanimously, except for Certain, who abstained.