The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) voted unanimously Tuesday night to move forward with a redistricting effort using 2020 Census data.
The board has failed to address the map since 2000 and missed another opportunity to update and even out the populations that vote in the five districts SBAC members represent.
Consultant John Gilreath of DRMP, an Orlando-based civil infrastructure firm, presented solutions to balance the current district map, which he said needs to be redrawn because of disparities.
"This now is critical because of the growth," Gilreath said about the increase in population in Alachua County that is evident in the many new developments, dense traffic and the increase in building permits being granted throughout the county.
Florida Statute 1001.36 requires that "School Board Member Districts must be 'as equal in population as nearly as practicable' and may only be amended in odd-numbered years."
Gilreath pointed out that in 2010 the biggest gap was between Districts 2 with 41,360 voters and District 5 with 54,802, a difference of 13,442. In 2020, the largest disparity of voters occured between District 2 with 44,598 voters and District 5 with 63,510 a disparity of 18,912 voters.
The goal is to "even out the population disparities," Gilreath said, while ensuring that no current board members are excluded from the current district they have been elected in.
Gilreath noted that it has been 20 years since the last redistricting effort and the next one must be compact and contiguous.
The other goal that Gilreath said he mapped out in the two options he presented to the board was a "total population balance."
The SBAC voted unanimously for Option 2 which evened out the voter base as follows: District 1 with 55,874 voters, District 2 with 55,604 voters, District 3 with 55,207 voters, District 4 with 56,287 voters, and District 5 with 55,539 voters. The largest voter gap under this option is 1,080 voters.
According to Gilreath, this option matches Alachua County's district maps closest and leaves room for rural-urban shifts.
"It would clear up confusion," he said.
Board member Tina Certain said she preferred at-large districts, but Gilreath made it clear there is not enough time to move to that option because it involves a referendum and would need to be added to a county ballot. There is no time to go through that process with four school board seats up for election in 2022.
Board member Mildred Russell agreed that Option 2 "looks more balanced," and board member Rob Hyatt said he would like to have conversations with colleagues and citizens and to get more data from minority communities to consider the single-voter district concept.
"I'm not convinced that it's a bad idea or a good idea," he said.
Former Alachua County and Gainesville Commissioner Rodney Long, who is running for the state House District 20 seat, addressed the board and Gilreath about a district map, which he said does not exist.
"I'm happy to see the county in the process of redrawing district boundaries," he said. "It did not occur in 2010."
Long noted that Florida law says the board must adopt a map and added that map copies have never been sent to the county courthouse, or the supervisor of elections.
"How are you qualified to hold your position?" he asked the board. "A map was never approved by the SBAC and admitted to the record to let you know what district you were legally in."