The Alachua County School District has a difficult balancing act to complete in the next four months.
The district is currently working on five new school zoning options to accommodate the construction of the new elementary school on 3999 SW 122nd St., known for the moment as Elementary I. District officials held a six-hour virtual input session on Wednesday about the rezoning process, allowing parents and other members of the public to learn and voice any concerns about the process.
The most prominent worries for now: transportation and adaptation inconveniences.
An initial PowerPoint presentation described each rezoning option being considered. Individuals could participate in the live session with questions and suggestions on Zoom, or watch the live recorded session on YouTube.
The proposed options are still under review and no final decisions have been made. Proposals are expected to be finalized in December so that the School Board’s decisions can be announced in February.
Megan Conerly, a mother of Meadowbrook Elementary students, worried about one of the options that would pull her student into the new school’s zoning area. They live near 39th Avenue, and she is currently located within 6 minutes from her kids’ school. She is worried that the new system will zone her family to Terwilliger Elementary, some 20 minutes away from her home.
At least 10 other parents echoed that type of disagreement.
John Gilreath, the district’s geographic information system manager, addressed the complexity of the rezoning process several times in the meeting while taking note of the public’s input.
He explained all the considerations when planning the relocation of students: “We need to address capacity for Elementary School I, as well as these surrounding schools. We need to consider the existing infrastructure — utilities and transportation. We need to think about future land use.”
Alachua County’s new housing construction in the past two decades has swung heavily west of Interstate 75, leading to previously nonexistent student density in those growing population areas. It’s a trend that’s expected to continue. Gilreath said that growth requires consideration to allow capacity for future students there.
He said another main factor is making every school zone representative of the district’s demographic distribution, which is currently 42% White; 34% African-American; 11% Hispanic; 7% Multi-race; and 5% Asian.
“We also need to consider diversity, as well as programming,” Gilreath said.
The rezoning proposals are being planned to minimize the number of students being relocated while maintaining or improving diversity and community representation in the schools, facilitating transportation, and properly accommodating students in the classrooms.
The school is expected to open in fall 2021 and should help address overcrowding issues that have been worsening within local elementary schools since 2019. Enrollment at 14 of the district’s 20 elementary schools exceed their student capacity.
One result of such extreme overcrowding? In some cases, lunch periods were scheduled as early as 9:30 a.m. to accommodate all students.
District spokesperson Jackie Johnson emphasized the urgency of the situation.
She praised the Half-Cent for Students tax as the main facilitator for reconstruction and innovation in Alachua County schools. Voters in 2018 approved the sales tax measure, and along with the construction of Elementary I, it’s helping overcrowding problems through reconstruction currently underway in nearly every school in the county.
The sales tax, Johnson said, “is going to radically change the kind of learning environments that our students and teachers enjoy for decades to come.”
A follow-up in-person public meeting about the rezoning is scheduled for Nov. 4 in the district’s School Board meeting room at 620 E. University Avenue in Gainesville.
Parents and others can choose their preferred rezoning option through a citizen input form that allows them to rank the options and submit any other suggestions or concerns about the project.