State rules Newberry Elementary School charter vote successful 

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe speaks at an event on May 4
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe received an email from the state on Monday indicating last month's vote to convert Newberry Elementary School to a charter was successful.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The city of Newberry is making plans to convert Newberry Elementary School from a public to a charter school after the Florida Department of Education (DOE) ruled the April 5 conversion vote by parents and teachers was successful. 

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe told Mainstreet on Saturday that the DOE had told him the teacher vote was sufficient to pass, after a tight vote (22-21 in favor of converting to a charter school) left both sides claiming victory.  

A Monday email from DOE Senior Chancellor Adam Miller to Marlowe put the state’s position in writing.  

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“The statute provides that in order to submit an application the applicant must demonstrate at least 50% of the teachers employed at the school voted in favor of converting the school to a public charter school,” Miller wrote at 4:45 p.m. in an email obtained by Mainstreet. “If a conversion charter school application is submitted to either the Alachua County School Board or the Charter School Review Commission, and the application can successfully demonstrate that at least half of the teachers voted for conversion, then the applicant has met that threshold requirement. The applicant must also demonstrate that a sufficient percentage of parents voted in favor of conversion.” 

Education First for Newberry (EFN), the nonprofit pushing for the charter conversion, trumpeted the news in a Monday evening press release, saying it is “thrilled.” 

“The Department of Education has acknowledged that we’ve hit the state statute,” Marlowe said in a Saturday interview. “We’re simply working on getting some sort of a statement from some entity that lets everyone know that the teachers have spoken, the parents have spoken. Newberry Elementary School will convert to a charter school. And we are so excited to welcome them as the first community school in Newberry.” 

In a Monday evening press release, Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) spokesperson Jackie Johnson said the school district has not received any communication from the state. She said the district is required to follow the State Board of Education rule (6A-6.0787), which requires a “majority” that Johnson noted EFN previously defined as 50% plus one vote.  

“Education First Newberry reiterated this on several occasions, including in letters to all three school principals, on their website, and in statements by their leadership during community meetings,” she said in the statement. “Obviously we do not want to risk violating the statute and the State Board rule unless we have confirmation and clarification directly from the state.” 

Kim Barton, the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections, tallied the votes for all three school conversions on April 17, but she said she would not rule whether the ballot had passed. Both EFN and its opponents, SOS Newberry and the school district, said the vote had gone their way for the elementary school.

Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton explains the counting procedure on Wednesday.
Photo by Glory Reitz Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton explains the counting procedure on April 17.

The dispute around the elementary teacher vote arose from the presumption that more than 50% of the teachers must approve the charter conversion for it to pass. Based on that requirement, the teacher vote would have failed because only 22 teachers voted in favor out of 44 teachers at the school—50%. 

But EFN said only 50% of the teachers were necessary to approve the change according to state statute, meaning 22 out of 44 teachers is sufficient to pass the vote. 

However, Barton consistently said—including in a phone interview with Mainstreet last week—that she was only the arbitrator and did not have the authority to rule on the outcome.  

ACPS maintained that the teacher vote failed, while EFN and Marlowe said state law only requires half of the teachers to be in favor—not a majority. 

Florida Statute 1002.33 states that “an application submitted proposing to convert an existing public school to a charter school shall demonstrate the support of at least 50 percent of the teachers employed at the school and 50 percent of the parents voting whose children are enrolled at the school, provided that a majority of the parents eligible to vote participate in the ballot process, according to rules adopted by the State Board of Education.” 

The parent vote for the elementary school was not in dispute, since it passed 149-125. 

State Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, asked DOE to intervene following the vote, and DOE had not responded to repeated inquiries from Mainstreet over the last week. 

Marlowe credited Clemons for expediting the response, saying Newberry didn’t need the elementary vote to be an open question hanging over the town for the next six months. 

“I applaud the leaders in Newberry of this initiative,” Clemons said in a phone interview. “I think that they’ve stood up strongly and proudly for the children of the community and their strong desire to want to improve on the status quo.”  

He also thanked Barton for her work, noting the difficulties in stepping into the role and dealing with a ballot mishap that caused confusion—a reference to a vote that Barton nullified after it was submitted using a parent ballot, instead of a teacher ballot. 

Clemons said the state of Florida has worked to increase funding for schools and raise salaries, but Alachua County school grades continue to be poor, with half of third graders not reading at the goal level.  

Clemons said he thinks the school district’s grade, a B for 2023, would drop if not for the excellent charter schools in the county.  

Clemons said other schools may follow Newberry’s lead and predicted the state will look at the rules governing the conversion process. One change that he thinks should be made is to eliminate the rule that a teacher who doesn’t vote gets counted as a vote against the conversion. 

“I would expect that rule to be tweaked in the next legislative session because I explained that to people and no one thinks that that’s real,” said Clemons, who is term-limited and not running for office in November.   

Marlowe said the Newberry City Commission will appoint four of the new school board members, and Education First for Newberry would select the final member. That new board would then begin the state charter school application process with the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC).  

Marlowe said the application is a seven-month process, so the plan is for the charter school to take over for the 2025-26 school year. The Newberry Commission will also hire a superintendent to lead the school application.   

For Newberry High School and Oak View Middle School, the charter school conversion discussion finished with the voting. Parents voted down the idea for both schools. Teachers at the middle school also voted down the charter conversion, while high school teachers voted in favor of it.   

The lead-up to the vote was contentious, with both sides trading public statements and holding public gatherings. Save Our Schools Newberry, a nonprofit advocating against the conversion effort, filed an ethics complaint against Marlowe and Newberry Commissioner Ricky Coleman, while a Newberry parent filed an ethics complaint against SBAC Member Tina Certain.  

The Archer City Commission also passed a resolution opposing the change, but it will not be affected since only the NES vote succeeded, and Archer has its own elementary school. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the DOE letter and a statement from Jackie Johnson.

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Chuck Bolic

They stole an elementary school.

Susan Bottcher

To win any vote you need a majority (i.e. dictionary definition is “the greater number”). Put another way, a majority is any number that is 50% + 1. Getting 22 of 44 votes is not a majority by any definition. Its exactly half; “exactly half” is not a majority.


Better review the vote count by “your” Alachua County Supervisor of Elections!

After declaring one teacher vote ineligible due to being a parent as well, the total teacher vote should be 43 (eligible) not 44. The teacher vote count was 22 teachers for the Newberry Elementary School conversion to a charter school and 21 against. Four of those against conversion “votes” were due to those teachers who decided not to vote! The applicable statute needs revision as these four should not be counted since they decided not to vote.


So, stealing tax payer money to support a private business, or worse, a church? Sounds fairly un-American to me.

Newberry Parent

That’s…not at all accurate.

Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

I think it is accurate.

Bill Whitten

One more example of how those who rule this state stamp out democracy. They get to write the rules that only require 50% (not a majority) to take something YOU paid for away while requiring 60% to amend our state constitution to add something we want.

Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

Just like the State stole our utility, now it has stolen an elementary school. Talk about election fraud . . .
Those mean, authoritarian, my-way-or-the-highway people really do stick together, don’t they?