Plan would rezone students in 2004


Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 12:18 a.m.
Students in Alachua County would be rezoned by the 2004-05 school year under a plan discussed Tuesday by School Board members.
During a series of planning meetings on Tuesday, board members discussed goals for the coming year, including rezoning, how to implement a new constitutional amendment requiring smaller class sizes, whether to look for a new superintendent and how to deal with a budget that is anticipated to continue to shrink.
"I think we need to give people some dates because there are many who think we're still rezoning for next year," board member Ginger Childs said. "Let's move on this with due diligence and then if we don't make it, we tell them when we know that. Otherwise, it makes us look weak and wishy-washy."
According to the timeline proposed by Schools Superintendent Mary Chambers, board members will establish a task force on rezoning in the next few months so the public can have extensive input on how the school zones would look. Definitions regarding the class-size amendment and a survey of current school capacities also are expected in the next few months, laying the foundation for a rezoning plan.
In making their decisions, board members must consider another new amendment that requires them to offer pre-kindergarten to all 4-year-olds by 2005. They also want to balance the population of schools in the district, where west Gainesville schools have grown increasingly overcrowded, and schools in east Gainesville are underenrolled.
"I'm willing to say this is realistic to show where we are and expect to be so we can be held accountable," said board member Wes Eubank, who also represents the School Board on the Alachua County Planning Commission.
In a move that could better coordinate school zoning issues in the future, the Alachua County Commission agreed Tuesday night to allow Eubank to become a voting member of its planning commission, which evaluates and makes recommendations on certain land use and development issues to the County Commission. A recent state law requires a School Board member be appointed to the planning commission.
"We have to figure out with the county where we need the schools to be underenrolled, so we have the capacity for the growth," Eubank said.
As for budget issues that will continue to haunt school district officials this year, Eubank, Childs and board member Tina Turner suggested the district could save nearly $1 million if 61 positions that are not now filled were eliminated or frozen.
"I think it's critical that teachers and career service personnel see that we are making cuts and strides to cut funding," Turner said.
"We might consider freezing some current positions that have been unfilled for five or six years or more but are still budgeted or have the departments come back with justification for them," Eubank said. "Maybe it isn't needed anymore and maybe some positions are so critical we have no choice but to fill them, but can we wait on the others until we have some idea of who is needed?"
In discussing other personnel issues, Eubank reminded the board that Chambers' current contract expires Sept. 30.
"I think we need not wait until September and realize we have to do something," Eubank said. "I think that is unfair to the superintendent to leave her in that position not knowing what we're going to do. I think we need to discuss and decide by March how we want to proceed on the superintendent's contract so we can talk about options and logistics."
Chambers, who became a top candidate last year for two superintendent jobs in south Florida, said, "I think it's a good idea to address outstanding issues."
Cathi Carr can be reached at 374-5086 or carrc@gvillesun.com

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