Children cried and hugged their parents outside of the Kirby-Smith boardroom Tuesday night.
This came after the Alachua County School Board voted unanimously on a rezoning plan that will consolidate Waldo Community School with Shell Elementary School.
The plan will not only dissolve the city of Waldo school zone and expand Shell’s, but also require the busing of approximately 200 Waldo students to Shell Elementary in Hawthorne next year.
At the meeting in the Kirby-Smith Boardroom many Waldo residents spoke out against the measure. Whole families attended, most wearing white T-shirts with S.O.S. written on them for “Save Our School.”
Some attendees spoke about financial issues being the primary factor for the school closure. The board members disagreed.
“This is not all about finances, it’s about teaching our kids,” Paulson said.
The Florida Association District School Superintendents reviewed the district’s finances and recommended consolidating small and under-enrolled schools, according to the agenda summary.
By consolidating the schools the county expects to save $475,000, said Jackie Johnson, spokesperson for Alachua County Public Schools.
Superintendent Owen Roberts said he didn’t take the decision lightly and kept the larger picture in mind.
“This problem was not created over night,” Roberts said. “I’m going to do what’s right for all the children.”
John Dukes’s III father was the past superintendent. He spoke in favor of the consolidation and reminded Waldo residents that this wasn’t the first time the county has closed a school.
“Waldo closed because of numbers. It wasn’t sustainable,” Dukes said. “I believe (Roberts) made the best decision that was available to him.”
April Griffin sympathized, saying she had been through this situation before. The board member lost both her middle school and her high school as a result of rezoning.
“For the people who say we don’t care – we care,” Griffin said.
Board member Gunnar Paulson proposed an amendment that would have given Waldo residents more time to prepare for the school’s closure. He proposed to give the school another year and for the board to reconsider the vote for closure.
The amendment failed unanimously.
Louie Davis, mayor of Waldo, and most of his large family showed up at the meeting wearing S.O.S. shirts. Davis wanted to see Paulson’s amendment pass to allow Waldo more time to improve and get better. But he said he came already feeling defeated.
“They had already made up their mind and written out their statements. There was little we could have done to change it,” Davis said.
Laura Dedenbach, Waldo city planner, criticized the board for not upholding the interlocal agreement, which requires the district to give more notice before any potential closure plans are made.
“Over the last two months Waldo, its parents, children, residents and business owners have tried mightily to implore you (the board) to slow the process down,” Dedenbach said.
Immediately after the measure was passed 5-0 most of the audience stood and left as the board continued with the agenda.
Camara Casson, a sophomore at Eastside High School who went to Waldo and whose grandmother is a teacher there, was disheartened by the board’s decision.
“It’s a crying shame,” Casson said. “I know that there was more that could have been done for the school.”
Samantha Sosa contributed to this report.