NEWBERRY ‒ After months of rigorous public debate, townhalls, and public campaigning, the parents and teachers at the three public schools in Newberry have voted down proposed conversions from public schools to charter schools.  The April 17 tallying of votes at the Newberry Municipal Building lasted for several hours and ended in some doubt as to the outcome of the vote for the Newberry Elementary School conversion.

There was no doubt that both parents and teachers voted no on conversion of Oak View Middle School with 244 parents voting against conversion and 134 parents voting against conversion.  Teachers at Oak View Middle School also turned down the conversion with an affirmative 40 votes against and just nine in favor of the proposed change.  Two teachers abstained from voting, and so therefore count as a “no” vote, leaving a total of 42 votes against conversion.  Similarly, 149 parents of Newberry High School students voted against converting to a charter school compared to 114 casting ballots in favor.  The story was a little different when it came to teachers at the High School, with 17 voting in favor of converting to a charter school compared to just six teachers affirmatively voting “no” to conversion of the school.  There were six other teaches who abstained from voting, bringing the total number counted against the change to just 12 votes.

At Newberry Elementary School, meanwhile, parents voted in favor of the conversion with 149 “yes” votes compared to 125 “no” votes.  The concern at Newberry Elementary School centered primarily on a single ballot among those cast by teachers.  Of the total 44 eligible teachers, 22 affirmatively voted in favor of the transition while 17 affirmatively voted against the change.  Since four teachers at Newberry Elementary abstained from voting, they counted as “no” votes, bringing the votes against the conversion to just 21.  

In contest is one ballot in favor of conversion, but was a parent ballot inside a teacher envelope, could account for the 44th teacher, and bring the total of teachers in favor to 23.  The ballot was disqualified, however, based on the uncertainty in how it should be counted.  If it is simply not counted, then exactly 50 percent of the teachers at the school voted in favor of the conversion.  The controversy appears to be whether 50 percent is sufficient or if a majority is required for the measure to pass.  

Florida Representative Charles “Chuck” Clemons believes the Newberry Elementary School conversion to a Charter school has passed as required by Florida law.  On April 17, Clemons sent a letter to Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz and Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd asking for the State to weigh in on the issue.  Clemons believes that a majority of teachers is not required for passage of the measure, writing, “[t]he plain language of the law states ‘at least 50 percent of the teachers employed at the school’ and does not require a majority.”

Clemons requested clarification from both state-level officials, stating, “[a]s both of you have served as respected lawmakers, I know that you understand that had the Legislature intended to require a majority vote, it would have done just that. While I feel strongly that the statute, as it plainly reads, is not ambiguous and thus, the effort as it relates to Newberry Elementary cannot be characterized as anything other than successful. However, your opinions and the opinions of your Legal Counsel are critical in insuring that this election is certified properly.

While no one with the State has officially responded, Alachua County Public Schools appears confident that this matter is a dead one.  The school district posted on its webpage, “[a]s you may know, the votes cast by eligible teachers and parents on the conversion of Newberry’s public schools to charter schools were counted on Wednesday, April 17 at a public meeting overseen by Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton. The results of the count are as follows: Newberry Elementary School: did not pass; Oak View Middle School: did not pass; Newberry High School: did not pass.  This means that Newberry Elementary School, Oak View Middle School, and Newberry High School ARE NOT eligible to become charters for the 2025-26 school year.”

The measure to convert the publics school was brought by a group called Newberry Education First.  If passed, the conversions to charter schools would have been effective with the 2025-26 school year.

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