A workshop intended to explain a set of proposed maps that will rezone hundreds of students around the school district left board members scratching their heads and having more questions than answers.
The meeting was the first time school board members were presented with Superintendent Shane Andrew and his administration’s long-awaited maps for what is the first district-wide rezoning effort in Alachua County in 40 years. It was also the first major update on the process since leadership scrapped a spot rezoning plan in April.
But despite spending nearly five months on the project and its impact on thousands of families − as well as tens of thousands of dollars going to a private firm for assistance − district officials failed to show how any information alleviated overcrowding at schools and transportation issues. Instead, board members were presented with visuals that lacked any meaningful substance that could better explain the maps before casting a first vote on the issue next month.
“This is a big problem,” Board member Sarah Rockwell said. “I would rather delay the rule-making process than move forward with the information we have today … This is just not acceptable to the community at all.”
The district’s chief of equity, inclusion and community engagement, Anntwanique Edwards, presented the board with the set of elementary, middle and high school maps Wednesday evening. She said her team used student data from February but will use updated data in the coming weeks.
Edwards said the district prioritized fiscal responsibility and efficiency through personnel, transportation and facilities. She also said families living within a 2-mile walking radius of schools were also heavily considered.
Several parents, however, spoke at the workshop and expressed concern that their children had been moved despite being in close proximity to their currently zoned school. Others brought up how the proposed maps may create more strain on an already struggling transportation system.
(Parents can see what school their child will be zoned for by using an interactive map found on the district's website, www.sbac.edu/Page/31380.)
When asked about how the new maps affected demographics and socioeconomic status (SES) for children, Edwards said that it wasn’t a factor in developing the maps and, therefore, didn’t have data to provide. She also said she didn’t know the board wanted SES to be a priority, despite stating that it would be at a May 31 workshop.
“Because we did the priorities and focused on zones, facilities and capacity, you're probably not going to see the diversity you want to see across schools,” said the district's leader of equity.
Edwards, who is leading the initiative under Andrew’s direction, said she didn’t know how many students would be affected across the county by the administration’s proposal when asked.
She did, however, share that students entering the highest grades for their currently zoned schools during the 2024-25 school year, such as fifth, eighth and 12th grade, would be unaffected by the new zones. But when asked about students at Irby Elementary (K-2) and Newberry Elementary (K-4), she seemed uncertain whether those students would be impacted.
Statistically, Newberry Elementary School is the most overcrowded school in the district with a reported 140% capacity rate, with all fifth grade students attending Oak View Middle School. It’s unclear how much of that will dwindle under the new maps.
School board members Kay Abbitt and Tina Certain, who each acknowledged the complexity of the issue, also shared concerns with the maps, pointing out that the board had directed leadership to ensure the new maps didn’t further burden teachers by concentrating schools in poverty and that they factored in financial efficiency, facilities, disabilities and SES.
Abbitt shared the importance of keeping communities together but also improving the quality of struggling schools across the district to better serve students throughout the process.
“I am hopeful that this is going to get better,” she said.
Over the next two weeks, the district will host four community input meetings before the school board gives the first vote on rezoning maps on Sept. 19, according to the district’s website.
Edwards said she understands the process will leave some families unhappy about the changes and that she also “can’t appease each individual school board member and their priorities.”
“I just want to know what it is we’re doing because we’re working with a team and paying people to help us,” Edwards told the board.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Alachua County School Board lacks data to support rezoning maps