Board will try to avoid building a new school

Published: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 1:06 a.m.
Rather than build a new elementary school in west Gainesville to deal with a requirement to reduce class sizes, officials in Alachua County are leaning toward adding classroom buildings at existing schools.
During a half-day workshop Thursday, Alachua County School Board members discussed several issues that will impact the district's facilities during the next several years, including a new amendment that requires them to offer universal pre-kindergarten to 4-year-olds by 2005.
Also, the new class-size amendment mandates that by 2010, class sizes will be limited to 18 students in pre-kindergarten through third grade, 22 students in grades four through eight and 25 students in high school.
The amendments are forcing school district officials to re-examine how they plan for classroom space as well as how to predict how many students will enroll. District officials estimate that to house students in smaller classes, they will need an additional 38 seats districtwide.
The problem comes from where those seats will be available. Based on current estimates from district officials, four west Gainesville elementary schools and two outlying area elementary schools need the most classrooms, while other schools, such as Lake Forest and Prairie View elementary schools, will have an abundance of available seats.
The estimates do not include portable classrooms because district officials plan to eliminate those spaces.
"Our dilemma will be . . . we know that student is somewhere, but we will have to try and figure out which school he will be attending," board member Wes Eubank said.
School Board members are planning now for the impacts and have said they want to rezone all schools in the district by the 2004-05 school year. At that time, they also would like to offer a more comprehensive choice program, allowing students to attend schools they aren't zoned for if there is room for them.
Many board members said they would rather create magnet programs under a choice plan to help fill up underenrolled east Gainesville schools.
"We need to try to attract naturally some of those students at big schools over to the smaller ones," board member Ginger Childs said.
"If we can eliminate portables, even though we might have to bus children to underenrolled schools, we would still save money on the bottom line," board Chairwoman Jeannine Cawthon said.
While officials did not list specific costs for the additions to schools, they said they would rather issue bonds than ask voters to pass a sales tax to help pay for new construction.
"We have to implement the class-size reduction and we can't waste a year and a half running a campaign for a sales tax," board member Tina Turner said.
"We need the money sooner rather than later and (issuing bonds) would give it to us immediately," Childs said.
District officials estimate the new pre-kindergarten amendment will bring in roughly 500 more students to the district by 2004-05, when 1,645 pre-K students are expected to enroll in Alachua County schools. State officials have estimated that 70 percent of the state's population of 4-year-olds will likely take advantage of the program.
School Board members seem eager to get started on making room in the district and agreed that smaller classes have long been desired.
"It's important to remember that teachers are always saying lower class sizes are the one thing they want," said Turner, who was a teacher for 17 years. "There have been years when I've taught classes with 35 kids in a class and it's not as effective."
Cathi Carr can be reached at 374-5086 or carrc@

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