SBAC’s Paulson: ‘We are in trouble with our community’

School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) member Dr. Gunnar Paulson was not present at Tuesday morning’s public hearing, but he had to plenty to say when the board reconvened Tuesday evening for public comments on the school district’s reorganization plan.

“We have lost the trust of the community,” said Paulson, who in his third term is the longest serving member of the board.

Tuesday morning, board member Rob Hyatt proposed that the five-member board stop voting on any matters until member Diyonne McGraw’s eligibility can be established, after news broke that she lives in the district Dr. Leanetta McNealy represents. At Tuesday evening’s reconvening, Paulson made it clear that he agrees with Hyatt. 

“Let’s investigate and get it out of the way,” he said. “We need to sooner or later get this resolved to the benefit of our district.”

McNealy, the board chair, was equally clear that she plans to move forward with votes next week, and in the morning session board member Tina Certain blasted Hyatt for “turning against one of our own.”

Certain repeated that sentiment while disagreeing with Paulson Tuesday evening.

“We don’t have the authority to sanction one of our own,” Certain said. She added that McGraw was elected countywide and the SBAC has no authority to suspend the business of the district.

“We have a stable board of five individuals who were elected by the public, the citizens of this county,” McNealy said. “Every last one of us up here, we were voted in by the entire county.”

Paulson said he wanted the SBAC to get involved and find out who will make the decision, “whether it’s the governor or what,” because the controversy has consumed the community. 

“It’s a distraction,” Paulson said. “It’s a big distraction—one I have never seen before in the school district.”

Dr. Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS), added another twist Tuesday when she revealed that the SBAC has failed to address district line updates since the last resolution it established in 2001. The SBAC is obligated to revisit district lines every 10 after each census report but did not do so in 2011. It must do so in 2021 to be compliant.

It’s unclear how the lack of redistricting affects McGraw, who has said she will not step down, even as a petition calling for her to resign crossed the 600 mark late Tuesday. 

“If the law required her to live in the district she’s representing and the supervisor of elections has confirmed that she DOES NOT, then she should step down,” Gabi Turner wrote on the Gainesville Word of Mouth Facebook group in a comment similar to others. “I’m sorry Ms. McGraw. I voted for you. I support your platform. But I can’t get behind something that isn’t right, and this is not.”

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