Newberry approves charter school board members

Commissioner Mark Clark was the lone dissent on the City Hall construction.
Commissioner Mark Clark was the lone dissent on the City Hall construction.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The Newberry City Commission approved four recommended members of a school board for Newberry Elementary School (NES)—the next step in its charter school conversion process—and approved action on a construction contract for a new City Hall building during its regular meeting Monday night. 

Charter School Board 

The city continues to work with Education First for Newberry (EFN), the nonprofit that in February initiated a push to convert Newberry’s three public schools into charters. 

Become A Member

Mainstreet does not have a paywall, but pavement-pounding journalism is not free. Join your neighbors who make this vital work possible.

Votes for Newberry High School and Oak View Middle School failed, but EFN and the city have proceeded with Newberry Elementary School, though Alachua County Public Schools maintains that the elementary vote failed as well.  

One of the first steps, as the city helps EFN prepare an application to the Florida Charter School Review Commission, is to create a governing board for the school. Eventually, the school would be run by its own 501(c)(3), separate from EFN. 

The commission gets to appoint four members of that board, NES teachers nominate one, EFN nominates the sixth, which it has decided to make a non-voting chair position. 

EFN provided a list of recommended nominees, all of whom the City Commission chose to appoint, including a captain for the school’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Task Force. 

The new board members include UF compliance analyst Derek Danne, Florida Virtual School teacher Leslie McGehee, human resources professional Leslie Hayes-Morrison, Family Promise executive director Shari Jones, speech pathologist Veronica Kadala (the teacher appointment), and Chelsea Leming as non-voting chair. 

“It takes a very, very strong and special person to get into this, knowing that this is a new, uncharted territory,” Commissioner Mark Clark said. “Thank you to each and every one of you who’ve gotten yourself involved. And we’re here to support you.” 

The commission also voted unanimously to approve a task order for the city attorney, to use up to $120,000 from the city’s general fund to contract for legal services supporting the charter school application. 

City Manager Mike New said the application process requires “external expertise,” so the city has solicited proposals and staff said Arnold Law Firm’s proposal, which would include about 80% of the application, is not to exceed $100,000. The city attorney’s own fees are not to exceed $10,000, and another $10,000 is set aside for school financial services. 

The money would be considered a short-term loan to the charter school, which New said would be paid back within three to five years. 

New said he expects the charter school to require more loans of this type before it becomes self-sufficient. He said he does not have a set amount to expect, but said he would not be surprised if it were another $100,000. 

City Hall 

Three years ago, the City Commission made a new city hall a priority, according to Mayor Jordan Marlowe. Last year, the commission authorized the city manager to enter a contract with Scorpio Construction for Construction Manager at Risk Services for the City Hall construction project. 

Monarch Architects, CHW, Scorpio, city staff, and the commission collaboratively designed the new City Hall campus, including a new 12,000 square foot building. 

At a special meeting on May 28, the commission approved the issuance of $6.29 million in capital improvement bonds to fund the project. 

At Monday’s meeting, the commission authorized the city manager to execute a contract with Scorpio based on a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) of $8,596,405. 

Within this GMP, the new building cost is $385.76 per square foot, and the renovation cost is $90.99 per square foot. 

The new design will add ingress/egress routes and parking, and utilizes arches, stonework and towers to help it fit with Newberry’s existing traditional feel. 

The clerk’s office in the existing building will be renovated, while the rest of the building will remain the same as city staff and contractors determine how to use the space in the future. 

Construction, set to begin in July, is expected to take about a year, to be completed in June 2025. 

A motion by Commissioner Tony Mazon to authorize the contract’s execution passed 4-1, with Clark in dissent.

A Scorpio rendering of the new city hall building.
Courtesy City of Newberry A Scorpio rendering of the new City Hall building.

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill Whitten

I think it would be worthwhile for someone outside of the city commission/EFN axis to start keeping a ledger. Keep track of the various loans, grants and value of city resources being deployed to this endeavor. Be sure to track repayments. Not prejudging if these are bad or good, but when the votes of 25 parents and one teacher(?) trigger the commitment of resources from the entire community, that process must be transparent. $100k here and $100k there starts to add up to real money.