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Alachua County School Board member, parents oppose charter school conversion proposal at meeting

The Alachua County School Board transitions from the chair report into the citizen input portion of the meeting Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (Madilyn Destefano/WUFT News)
The Alachua County School Board transitions from the chair report into the citizen input portion of the meeting Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (Madilyn Destefano/WUFT News)

The Alachua County School Board met on Tuesday to discuss the April vote to convert three public schools to charter schools starting in the 2025-26 academic year. The conversions would include Newberry Elementary School, Oak View Middle School and Newberry High School to charter schools, according to the Alachua County School Board website.

During Chairwoman Diyonne McGraw’s report in the meeting opening, Board Member Tina Certain expressed her disapproval of the school conversions.

“I’m against it,” Certain said. “I will continue to advocate for the district to operate public schools for students.”

The member of the board revealed she is not against the citizens of Newberry starting three new schools, or one new charter school, but disagrees with the transitions citing limited student opportunities.

“Converting those schools to charter will limit the opportunities for students with severe disabilities, it will limit the opportunities for students whose parents cannot bring them to school,” she said. “I ran to advocate for equitable opportunities and access for students and if those schools convert to charters, there won’t be equitable access.”

But Certain is concerned these parameters may make it harder for marginalized people to attend local schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded and are free for students, but can require an application process for admission. According to Yes Newberry School System, a site used to encourage voters to approve the conversion proposal, “All current students currently enrolled in the three schools will automatically have the option to attend the new schools and can remain in the system through high school graduation.”

Carmen Ward, President of the Alachua County Education Association, used her three minutes in front of the board to explain how this plan would also impact teachers and staff. “Teachers have power right now and they need to use it,” Ward said.

If they don’t vote against the conversion, Ward explains that the employees’ rights are not protected meaning their salaries could disintegrate and all the support staff in the schools could be privatized, she said.

According to the Yes Newberry School System website, support staff are not guaranteed their positions in the new schools but all current teachers are, with a bump in salary.

“Projected budgets will allow for an immediate pay increase of 3%... plus bonuses for experience,” the site says regarding teachers.

Concerned not just for herself, but for her children, Melissa Hawthorne, a teacher at Newberry High School and mother to children in Alachua County schools, went to the meeting to warn of what the conversion could mean for the entire community.

“The thing that’s not fair is that charter schools, although they’re publicly funded, they don’t have to serve all students,” Hawthorne said. “Public schools are required to serve every student within its own and I think that’s a really beautiful thing.”

Eligible school staff and parents will vote on the potential conversion of Newberry Elementary, Oak View Middle and Newberry High School between April 5 and April 12. The count will then take place on April 17. “Even if the conversion is approved, the new operators and the district will have to agree on a charter… operations,” according to the Alachua County School Board website.

Madilyn is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing
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