SBAC workshop highlights zoning concerns 

Alachua County School Board member Leanetta McNealy said not everyone will be happy with the rezoning.
Alachua County School Board member Leanetta McNealy said not everyone will be happy with the rezoning.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) held a workshop over comprehensive redistricting for Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS). Anntwanique Edwards, chief of equity, inclusion and community engagement, presented staff’s objectives and methodology, but told the board Wednesday she needs a unified priority list from them to make the project work. 

The district’s goal for the rezoning was to match school capacities with projected and current enrollment, and to prioritize fiscal responsibility and efficiency.  

Staff determined where to draw zoning lines based on transportation challenges, school capacity and magnet program enrollment. 

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“You are not going to get every single neighborhood or person happy if it is their child that’s going to be impacted,” Board member Leanetta McNealy said. 

To emphasize fiscal responsibility, Edwards told the board it is best to revitalize existing schools instead of trying to build new construction. 

SBAC Board Member Tina Certain
Courtesy of Alachua County Public Schools Tina Certain

More efficient transportation could save the district over $1 million by reducing the number of bus routes from 12 to 10, according to Edwards. Board members brought up a concern for maintaining diversity in schools: when zoning lines reflect more efficient transportation routes, they can reduce diversity. 

Board member Kay Abbitt said it is important to keep communities together, but also to ensure that every school offers quality education. 

“There wouldn’t be a problem in having more neighborhood schools if the quality of the schools was the same all across the district, but it’s not,” Board member Kay Abbitt said. 

A “well-utilized” school operates with 80-99% of its seats filled, but almost two-thirds of Alachua County’s traditional schools are operating with over 100% capacity, while most of the others are less than 80% full. 

Newberry Elementary School, Fort Clarke Middle School and Buchholz High School have the highest overcrowding rates, operating at 141%, 110% and 124%, respectively. 

“With all of the best requests from everyone, we cannot keep a school at 141%,” Edwards said. “So when we’re looking at this, we have to make some predictions and determinations, and everyone can’t stay. I can’t say it more plain than that.” 

Edwards told the board that while staff has incorporated all seven factors listed in School Board Policy 5120, board members are each pushing for more specific topics that matter to them. She asked the board to come up with a unified set of priorities so she could proceed with more clarity. 

The board, in turn, asked Edwards and other administrative staff to come back with more detailed information about how the proposed zoning addresses the seven factors. 

ACPS has not rezoned the entire district since 1983, according to the district website. As populations have grown and communities have developed, schools have become increasingly full, until the current point where 20 of Alachua County’s 36 schools are overcrowded. 

“The district exists to educate students,” Certain said. “But there’s all these other things that are around that we have to do, and unfortunately this task right here is one that has been so undesirable that it’s been neglected…for 30-plus years.” 

SBAC Board Member Kay Abbitt
Courtesy of Alachua County Public Schools Kay Abbitt

The new attendance zones will be up for board approval on Nov. 7, and take effect in the 2024-25 school year. 

Part of the comprehensive rezoning process is community input, but during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s workshop, several citizens complained there is no way to provide informed input without more information.  

Armando Grundy-Gomes called in to tell the board and staff that the community that the maps and enrollment information available online is not sufficient. 

“This community requires a level of engagement with the community that’s more substantive,” Grundy-Gomes told the board. “The community is not going to stand for just surface data.” 

Several residents of the Pleasant Street community spoke out, asking to stay zoned to Parker Elementary. They said walking or driving to Parker is easy. Foster Elementary, to which they are tentatively rezoned, is unwalkable and would require school buses to complete tricky maneuvers on the road. 

Newberry mayor Jordan Marlowe also attended the meeting to tell the board Newberry’s priority is to be a complete community. He also asked to see more information, explaining that if the zoning could make a significant difference to the overcrowding problem, he would support it, but if not, he would rather work the problem out within Newberry. 

“I’m a teacher at Newberry High School. I know the schools are overcrowded, my class is full,” Marlowe said. “But I would stick with a class that’s full, that has my neighbors in it rather than have to turn to a neighbor and say, ‘I need you to go somewhere else.’” 

The school board will host community input sessions in the following times and places: 

  • 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 22 at Hawthorne Middle/High School Auditorium 
  • 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 24 at Howard Bishop Middle School Cafeteria 
  • 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 28 at Santa Fe High School Auditorium 
  • 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 29 at Kanapaha Middle School Cafeteria 
  • 1 p.m. on Oct. 2 at SWAG Resource Center 
  • 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 5 at Newberry High School Auditorium 
  • 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 10, at Gainesville High School Auditorium 

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