BY JENNIFER CABRERA/Alachua Chronicle
GAINESVILLE, Fla. ‒ At the March 21, 2023 Alachua County School Board meeting, Member Kay Abbitt requested that the board “put a stop to the spot rezoning” during the Board Member Requests part of the meeting.
Abbitt said, “I want to request that we do not move forward with spot rezoning and wait and do a comprehensive rezoning next year.” Her first reason was that the vote to rezone elementary schools was for comprehensive rezoning: in fact, the motion at the Feb. 7 meeting was to ask Superintendent Shane Andrew to “immediately address rezoning at the elementary schools for the ’23-’24 school year.”
Abbitt added that spot rezoning would reduce the options for comprehensive rezoning the following year because those schools would be out of the mix; also, she thought the board should focus on bigger problems.
Andrew agreed, recommending that the board “revisit the motion… It is my recommendation, for the record, to not move forward with elementary rezoning by the start of the August 2023 school year” so families will have more than four- or five-months’ notice that they are being moved to a new school. He also said staff needs more time for community input and that Kindergarten Round-up is coming up quickly, on April 27.
Board Attorney David Delaney said it sounded like there was a request for more information, and he recommended getting that information from the superintendent, allowing the board members time to review it, and addressing the issue at a future meeting.
Member Diyonne McGraw asked whether they could take the vote tonight, but Delaney said again that it sounded like board members wanted more information and pointed out that the agenda did not include an item about rescinding the decision to do spot-rezoning. However, the Feb. 7 vote to rezone before the 2023 school year was taken during the Board Member Requests part of that meeting and was not on that agenda.
McGraw pointed out that there is a meeting scheduled for citizen input on March 23, and Chair Tina Certain said that meeting will occur as scheduled.
Member Leanetta McNealy said she understood pulling back but didn’t support it because she thought they had all been on the same page (the vote on Feb. 7 was unanimous, with Sarah Rockwell absent). McNealy said that, based on this evening’s discussion, she didn’t see why people “would take the time to show up at Terwillegar on Thursday evening if it’s pretty sure that we are not going to have the quorum of the vote to move forward… I’m really perplexed and confused… I want to be on record that I don’t agree, at this time, with one more time kicking the can down the road when you know what we need to do.”
Member Sarah Rockwell said she was disappointed because the board should have started talking about rezoning much earlier and also that no plans were presented at the March 8 workshop. She pointed out that moving students from “Old Terwillegar” to the new Terwillegar was presented as a one-year swing school, but if there is no rezoning before fall, they will be in that school for three years. Rockwell said many of the families zoned for that school cannot reach it by bus from their neighborhoods.
Abbitt said it’s “crazy” that the board and staff will have to continue to spend time on the spot re-zoning process when they have so many other things to work on: “It just doesn’t seem logical.”
McGraw said the board never received an explanation for why they were pursuing spot rezoning instead of comprehensive rezoning; that given the number of teachers leaving the district, the board should be prioritizing getting behavior and transportation under control. “I know one thing: you’re gonna lose everybody you have if you don’t get this behavior under control,” McGraw said.
Certain said staff had told her they didn’t have enough time to do comprehensive rezoning before the 2023 school year, and she shared Rockwell’s concerns about the families at Terwillegar. She said she didn’t think the board could do anything about behavior except what they had already done through budget and policies.
Certain said, “Spot rezoning at this time kind of paves the way to help those students out that are there and helps the capacity issues at some schools, it helps with the finances.” She said they would hold Thursday’s workshop and see how it “shakes out.”
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