County, schools to discuss growth
Published: Thursday, July 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 1, 2004 at 12:50 a.m.
Alachua County School Board members are expected to be at the next County Commission meeting to discuss school crowding in an attempt to resolve concerns that have resulted in the commission delaying some new developments.
The commission's actions were chided by some developers and School Board members at a Wednesday meeting of the School Concurrency Committee, a panel formed to figure out how the county and School Board can better plan for growth.
"I thought it was totally disingenuous of the County Commission," said David Miller, president of the Builder's Association of North Central Florida. "I've had some conversations with School Board members who had no idea they were being used as a turndown for development. This is a serious matter."
The committee also heard from Palm Beach County and Palm Beach County School Board officials about a planning process they have to ensure the schools needed to serve new residential development are in place before or concurrent with the development.
The concept is commonly called school concurrency and only two Florida counties - Palm Beach and Orange - have specific plans to try to ensure it, officials said.
The concurrency debate has been heating up in Alachua County of late.
Heavy growth in west Gainesville has led to overcrowded schools there while campuses in east Gainesville are losing enrollment.
The School Board has told developers that kids in new homes might not be sent to the schools for which they are zoned if that campus is overcrowded. Instead those students could be bused to schools where capacity exists.
Meanwhile, the County Commission has recently deferred voting on several new development proposals because it wants to know if nearby schools will have room for more students.
Some commissioners have voiced frustration over the answers they get from the school district when they ask if capacity exists. Overall, the district has room for more students but some specific schools are bursting.
So the commission wants a school representative at its meetings to testify whether capacity exists in schools close to the development under consideration by the county.
School Board member Ginger Childs said district representatives - possibly including herself - will be at the next meeting to discuss the overall issue.
"I think, if it is not too crass to suggest to the County Commission, perhaps they should say they will approve these developments but that they don't know or can't guarantee where the children will be assigned for school," Childs said. "That would have been a much more realistic attitude because we, as the School Board, haven't decided where (the students) will be assigned."
Palm Beach County began grappling with the issue in 1992. It implemented a plan in 2002.
County and school officials from Palm Beach said Wednesday the process was not easy. It involved disputes between the county and cities, the county and the School Board, and developers and the various governments. But they say having a plan is worth the trouble it took to create it.
"We at the school district know about every development application plan and that is really helpful to our planning. We see things not at the end of the pipeline but at the beginning, which is really helpful in our planning," said Kris Garrison, planning director for the Palm Beach County School Board.
Cindy Swirko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 374-5024.
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