The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) voted 3-2 to stop its current elementary school rezoning efforts and instead do comprehensive K-12 rezoning that would go into effect for the 2024-25 school year.
The Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) had begun a “spot rezoning” process earlier this year to try and rebalance the student population at the overcrowded Chiles, Hidden Oak and Meadowbrook with the new Terwilliger Elementary School, which has some available space for students.
According to ACPS data, seven elementary schools in the district are operating with more than 100% of the school’s seats filled, while five elementary schools are underutilized with fewer than 80% of their seats filled. The remaining nine elementary schools are labeled as “well-utilized” with 80% to 99% of their seats filled.
“Unfortunately, or fortunately, one of the things that we have to look at is ensuring that we are operating the school buildings efficiently, and operations are efficient, and we are not overstaffed … and that’s one reason why school rezoning should be pursued,” SBAC Chair Tina Certain said during the regular meeting Tuesday. “The timing will never be good.”
However, the spot rezoning had run into community concerns including some about the timing of the rezoning and whether the spot rezoning could lead to some students being rezoned twice, a circumstance that ACPS staff confirmed Tuesday night was possible.
“I cannot in good conscience support a plan that could move children the same age as my child… twice,” Board Member Sarah Rockwell said.
Carmen Ward, president of the Alachua County Education Association union, said she had only gotten negative calls on the spot rezoning.
“Everyone I speak to wants comprehensive rezoning to be done correctly because they care about the children,” Ward said. “Those children who may end up being rezoned twice are a concern to the teachers. … And they think it’s too late for next school year to do the rezoning as it needs to be done.”
Board members Rockwell, Kay Abbitt and Diyonne McGraw voted to halt the current spot rezoning and rezone elementary schools as part of a comprehensive rezoning process that will remake the school lines ahead of the 2024-2025 school year.
“Everybody – it’s been overwhelming – has said ‘We would prefer to have comprehensive zoning,’” Abbitt said.
The staff effort needed to get the spot rezoning done quickly could be better spent focusing on other issues in the school system, Abbitt said.
Certain and Board Member Leanetta McNealy voted to continue the spot rezoning process.
McNealy said that the schools were “well on our way” with the spot rezoning and that process should continue. She also said that switching from spot rezoning to comprehensive rezoning wouldn’t mean everyone was automatically on board with changing the school boundaries.
“If you are planning on doing comprehensive rezoning… many more than you will be in this very auditorium at every community meeting, saying they don’t want it. Period,” McNealy told the parents at Tuesday’s meeting.
Certain said part of her push to continue to the spot rezoning was in making the school system more financially efficient.
“There are hard decisions that have to be made,” Certain said. “And there’s not going to be 100% consensus on what needs to get done.”