NEWBERRY ‒ The dispute over whether the Newberry Elementary School charter conversion achieved enough ballots to move forward has not yet been resolved. Monday, Education First Newberry, Inc. (EFN) posted on its “Yes Newberry” Facebook page that the Florida Department of Education (DOE) has “confirmed today that per state statutes, a 50% vote threshold is the requirement for the teacher vote for passage of a charter conversion. Having already achieved the 50% threshold for the parent vote, Newberry Elementary School has thus passed the conversion vote and will begin its charter application for submission to the state Charter Review Commission.”

Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson Jackie Johnson challenges EFN’s assertion. In an email statement sent out Tuesday, Johnson stated, “As of the end of business today, the district had not received any official notification from the Florida Department of Education about changing the results of the Newberry Elementary School conversion vote.”

Johnson added that the District must adhere to State Board of Education rule 6A-6.0787 of the Florida Administrative Code. She also stated that EFN reiterated the necessity of meeting the administrative code requirements “on several occasions, including in letters to all three school principals, on their website, and in statements by their leadership during community meetings.”

A distinction in language between Florida Statute Section 1002.33(3)(b) and the Florida Administrative Code rule 6A-6.0787 is at the heart of the dispute and ultimate outcome of the charter school conversion effort.

Florida Statute Section 1002.33(3)(b) states in pertinent part, “An application submitted proposing to convert an existing public school to a charter school shall demonstrate the support of at least 50 percent of the teachers employed at the school and 50 percent of the parents voting whose children are enrolled at the school, provided that a majority of the parents eligible to vote participate in the ballot process, according to rules adopted by the State Board of Education.”

Florida Administrative Code rule 6A-6.0787(3)(d) was promulgated after the enactment of the state statutory provisions allowing for charter school conversion. That administrative rule states, “If a majority of teachers employed at the school and a majority of voting parents support the charter proposal, the conversion charter application must be submitted….”

The difference between the statute and the rule is whether more than 50 percent of teachers must approve or if 50 percent approval is sufficient, as stated in the Statute. The rule was adopted and has been in effect since June 2010.

Alachua County Today has obtained a copy of the email from Adam Miller, Senior Chancellor at the Florida Department of Education. In that email, Miller states, “The statute provides that in order to submit an application the applicant must demonstrate at least 50% of the teachers employed at the school voted in favor of converting the school to a public charter school.”

While charter conversion attempts failed at Oakview Middle School and Newberry High School, the picture remains a bit hazy at Newberry Elementary School. Parents at the elementary school voted in favor of the conversion with 149 “yes” votes compared to 125 “no” votes. The concern at Newberry Elementary School centers 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, which was a parent ballot inside a teacher envelope, and could account for the 44th teacher, bringing the total of teachers in favor to 23. The ballot was disqualified, however, based on the uncertainty as to 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.

Chancellor Miller also wrote, “If a conversion charter school application is submitted to either the Alachua County School Board or the Charter School Review Commission, and the application can successfully demonstrate that at least half of the teachers voted for conversion, then the applicant has met that threshold requirement.”

When asked about any challenge by Alachua County Public Schools of the conversion, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe responded, “We can find no opportunity for [the District] to challenge. The application goes to the charter review board, not the [School Board of Alachua County]. If the review board approves the application, it is done.”

Marlowe, who has been an avid supporter of the conversion to charter schools also said in an email to Alachua County Today, “The whole community of Newberry is excited to have the opportunity to welcome NES as our first community school.”

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 in favor of conversion. Teachers at Oak View Middle School 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 teachers who abstained from voting, bringing the total number counted against the change to just 12 votes.

If EFN is able to proceed, Newberry Elementary School would be converted to a charter school effective with the 2025-26 school year.

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