By Dom Nozzi
September 16, 2004
I attended an astonishing Alachua County FL school concurrency committee meeting today. It was a session designed to elicit “consensus” on what the committee has concluded.
A City Commissioner, early on, made a statement at the meeting that he has now heard a lot of data reports from the school board staff at committee meetings that clearly shows that the County has no school capacity problem on a county-wide basis. What we have is a DISTRIBUTION problem. True, there are a few schools that are over capacity, but the school board has stated clearly that they can fairly easily use “reassignment” as a tool to transfer students as a way to ease over-crowding at the over-crowded schools. The Commissioner concluded by saying “Where’s the Beef”? What is the problem? We don’t have a school capacity problem, so why are we meeting as a committee? After all, he noted, projections indicate that school enrollment totals will be DECLINING over the next 5 years in many of the grade cohorts.
The committee floundered about with a number of tangential issues. I couldn’t resist, so I chimed in and tried to bring some clarity to the discussion.
To answer the Commissioner’s rhetorical question, I made the point that it seems to me that there are generally two camps when it comes to school capacity. One camp says we have no capacity problem because we don’t object to the idea of reassigning/transferring students in new developments to remote schools on the other side of the county.
The other camp says we DO have a capacity problem. We don’t believe it is acceptable to assign students in new developments to remote schools. That if schools near the new development are over capacity, we have a school capacity problem. Many in this camp believe, as I do, in the merits of neighborhood-based schools — I didn’t say that to the committee, however.
Earlier, another City Commissioner made it clear to the committee that on more than one occasion, a County Commissioner has pressed the school board to change their policy from one that states that “the school board MAY assign new students to remote schools if nearby schools are full” to one that states that “the school board MUST assign new students to remote schools if nearby schools are full.”
Remarkably, when this second City Commissioner requested that the committee take a position on this question, there was general agreement that the committee does not have a problem with transferring new students to remote schools (i.e., that the county does not have a school capacity problem because it can easily be rectified by transferring students to remote schools). The County Commissioner and the other City Commissioner made it clear that we should leave this question of how to correct school capacity problems to the elected school board members (instead of the county commission), and the board can easily solve the problem by transferring students to remote schools.
Disappointing, to say the least.
Frankly, I’m not very surprised. After all, this is a car-happy community where distance/geography has become irrelevant.
Funny, I could have sworn that the School Board just recently adopted a neighborhood-based schools policy. And is it NOT true that many (most?) parents desire/expect their kids to go to school in or near their neighborhood?
How many developers will provide full disclosure to their prospective future homebuyers to let them know that the parents in their new homes will need to be having their kids bused to schools on the other side of the county?