Educate January 2019

Moving Forward After Sales Tax Vote


Written By: Jackie Johnson

Although it will be March before Alachua County Public Schools receive any funds from the Half-Cent for Schools initiative, the district is already moving ahead with its plans for improving school facilities.

The half cent was approved by local voters in November by a two-to-one margin. It’s expected to raise about $22 million a year over the next 12 years, with the money dedicated to revitalizing the district’s old and outdated school buildings and adding space for a growing number of students.

“We’re committed to providing all students with a higher-quality learning environment,” said Superintendent Karen Clarke. “Thanks to local voters, we’ll now have the funding we need to meet that commitment.”

In the lead-up to the election, the district developed and shared with the public a proposed list of facilities projects for each school. Among the schools slated for major reconstruction and renovation based on their age and condition are Idywild and Metcalfe elementary schools and Howard Bishop Middle School. Architects have been interviewed and have toured the schools, and in the next month, the district plans to select those who will design the projects.

The district has also begun planning for the construction of a new elementary school to relieve overcrowding at a number of existing schools in western Alachua County. Based on input from a committee of local community representatives and the availability of suitable sites, the school board has approved the placement of the new school on a piece of property in the Oakmont subdivision that was donated to the district several years ago. Elementary School ‘I’ is expected to be ready for students in the fall of 2021.

Alachua County Public Schools’ facilities team is working with outside experts on infrastructure to prioritize all the other projects on the comprehensive list. A number of factors will be considered, including the condition of each building, the number of students affected and the amount of work previously completed. The prioritization process is scheduled to be finished in March or April.

In the meantime, the district will be moving ahead on other capital projects, including repairs and/or replacement of roofs, air conditioners and other major systems, safety and security improvements, classroom upgrades and other projects. To be able to tackle more projects up front, the district is planning to bond revenues from the sales tax so that more revenue is available sooner – hopefully while renovation, repair and construction costs are lower.

In keeping with the ballot language approved by local voters, an independent citizens’ oversight committee will review all expenditures from the half cent to ensure the money is spent as voters intended. As a state agency, the district will also be bound by Florida laws and regulations when it comes awarding contracts for the work.

In the next few months, the district will be unveiling an online “dashboard” that will provide the public with information on the progress of facilities projects. Local citizens can already review the projects planned for each school and other information about the Half-Cent for Schools by visiting bit.ly/2OyTaA7. 

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