The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) convened at Oak View Middle in Newberry on Wednesday for its first community input session concerning rezoning public schools.
Just over 100 parents and students sat in the Panther Palace, aka the cafeteria, for the board members to listen to concerns on how the rezoning along with other concerns like long bus rides, losing magnet programs, student discipline and facility expansion.
One request was repeated several times: move fifth graders back into the elementary school building instead of combining with middle schoolers. Because of growth, the school district began placing fifth graders into Oak View more than 10 years ago. Since then, growth has only increased in Newberry and western Alachua County.
The school board decided on April 5 to switch from spot zoning to comprehensive zoning that will take effect for the 2024-2025 school year. However, the school district hopes to finalize the rezoning process this fall.
Jackie Johnson, spokesperson for the school district, outlined the plan at the meeting. She said the Wednesday Oak View session is the first of five input sessions that staff will use to develop the rezoning map.
Upcoming input sessions:
- April 25, 5:30 p.m. at Wiles Elementary
- April 27, 5:30 p.m. at Metcalfe Elementary
- May 4, 5:30 p.m. at Norton Elementary
- May 10, 5:30 p.m. at Santa Fe High School
On Aug. 16, staff hope to present the proposed maps to the school board for feedback. After the maps become public, the SBAC will start another round of listening sessions. Johnson said the board plans to vote on the first reading for the rezoning map on Sept. 19 and the second reading on Oct. 17.
The school district provided maps that show the current capacity of elementary, middle and high schools along with projected Alachua County growth by the school district.
Currently, Newberry Elementary School sits at 141% capacity. The other closest elementary schools also hover around full capacity, or past it. High Springs sits at 98%, Archer at 93%, Meadowbrook at 115%, Hidden Oak at 106%, Chiles at 103% and Wiles at 120%.
Only the new Terwilliger Elementary is under capacity with the current attendance at 62%.
For middle schools, Oak View has 92% capacity with fifth graders included. The three closest middle schools also have no room for additional students—High Springs (98%) Fort Clarke (110%) and Kanapaha (95%).
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe spoke and suggested moving the boundary line in between the city and Gainesville further to the west. The move would allow Newberry schools to capture fewer students from the Jonesville area and give the schools space.
Even this action would only allow the schools to catch their breath, Marlowe said. Newberry city growth means the current facilities need expansion and updates. He said the schools need it before SBAC’s projected 2030 date.
Other residents said the same, asking the school board to invest in the facilities.
County Commission Ken Cornell urged the school board to consider impact fees at a joint meeting last week. Those impact fees on new development would then go to fund expansions and renovations.
Newberry has grown steadily over the past several years. In a March interview, Marlowe said its growth has never exceeded 6-7% in a year and has never added more than 155 houses in one year. But he said at least three times that number of homes are built in unincorporated Alachua County between Newberry and Gainesville, placing strain on Newberry schools.
SBAC data shows the unincorporated area between Gainesville and Newberry, encompassing what’s known as Jonesville and Tioga, is slated to add more students than any other area. High Springs, Newberry and the city of Alachua will add developments to the mix, with the school district reserving more seats in each of those cities than within Gainesville city limits.
In eastern Alachua County and Gainesville, the school district has no projected new students coming from new development in the area. Hawthorne’s elementary and middle/high school serve students from La Crosse and Micanopy with no new students expected.
East Gainesville elementary schools—Lake Forest, Metcalfe, Rawlings, Williams, Foster and Duval—have no new students listed from the March 2023 data. The same holds true for middle and high schools in the area.
Find full data from the school district at their rezoning website.