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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Like much of Florida, Alachua County has seen its share of growth in the past 20 years, especially in the smaller outlying communities in the western portion of the county. As more people move into the area, housing growth escalates and new business open to serve the increasing population. While governments at the county and local levels plan and oftentimes struggle to keep up with burgeoning demand, school systems also are not immune to the impacts of increasing populations.

According to High Springs City Commissioner Ross Ambrose, the City Commission is concerned about the municipality’s ability to keep up with infrastructure needed for the anticipated increase, especially regarding school facilities. Local governments use concurrency plans through a system of land use regulations that ensure public services such as roads, utilities, water and sewage, parks, libraries and schools will be adequate to meet the demands of new development. In some cases, developers may have received approval for projects in the future that did not anticipate other growth or development.

High Springs has attempted to maintain its small-town appeal and natural recreation areas and limit urban sprawl and development, but the City is restricted by development deals passed up to 20 years ago based on prior concurrency requirements. This small-town identity that High Springs seeks to maintain is in part responsible for the growth and it is anticipated that the population will exceed 10,000 within five years.

School concurrency was mandated by the Florida Legislature in 2005 and initially implemented in Alachua County in 2008. Alachua County Public Schools has 48 schools including 31 elementary schools, nine middle schools and eight high Schools, along with two special education centers, an early childhood center, a family services center and an environmental education center. The majority of these are located in Gainesville, with a population of 133,997 as of 2019. The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) set its focus and resources on where the anticipated growth would take place. But the rural smaller towns have actually seen the largest growth, especially among children under 18 years of age.

According to 2019 census data, Gainesville has grown 7.6 percent in the past 10 years as compared to the City of Alachua with a 9.5 percent growth rate, Newberry with a 24.2 percent growth rate and High Springs with a 16.8 percent growth rate. As for population under 18 years, Gainesville is at 17 percent, Alachua is at 35 percent, Newberry is at 43.5 percent and High Springs has 24.6 percent. Alachua, with a population of just under 10,000, has one high school, one middle school and two elementary schools and Newberry, with a population of 6,231, has one high school, one middle school and one elementary school.

High Springs, with a population of 6,178, has only one combined elementary and middle school, which is already at over 100 percent capacity, with high schoolers attending Santa Fe High School in Alachua, which is currently at almost 96 percent capacity and just saw its largest increase in incoming freshman students.

State law mandates that each local school board is responsible for maintaining, repairing and building schools to meet the demand and concurrency plans. The SBAC has seen funding from the State cut over the past 10 years and Alachua County schools have lost over $168 million in funding. The average school building is over 40 years old and three of the four schools in Alachua were built over 60 years ago. The drastic loss of state dollars has left the school board searching for alternate funding.

In 2018, Alachua County Public Schools sought and received voter approval for a one-half cent sales tax surcharge to fund school construction, renovation and modernization. To support this initiative, the 2019-2030 Strategic Plan was developed to return schools to their existing permanent / new permanent capacity and eliminate portables. The money would be used for projects at each of the schools to modernize classrooms, build new facilities, improve media centers, modernize kitchens and build new infrastructure. Since 14 of the elementary schools in the county are over capacity, with the outlying western communities especially hard hit, the SBAC decided several years ago to consolidate and rezone the districts from nine zones to four, which would spread out the student population and revise the numbers so that fewer schools are at capacity.

According to Ambrose, this allowed the SBAC to not be required to build new facilities in outlying districts since they were no longer at capacity. This put more responsibility on the communities or developers to fund new schools and provide available land. After the sales tax was approved, most of the funding was directed at Gainesville schools, including building Terwilliger, a new elementary school, which cost over $4 million of the estimated $22 million a year the school board receives from the tax. They also made major reconstruction, renovations or new facilities at nine Gainesville schools.

“None of the funding has been earmarked for renovations at our single overcrowded High Springs elementary/middle school. If there is funding left at the end of their other projects, we are on the list for a new HVAC in the school, but that is based on leftover funding,” Ambrose said. “We have had several local developers offer to provide land for a new school, but the source of funding has not been clarified and the SBAC says they don't have the funds for that.”

Ambrose went on to say that the School Board wants to consider other options such as busing to the schools in Alachua or Newberry. And he has concerns about the issues that plan would create, citing longer days for families and students, road capacity with additional buses running, and the transportation costs. “It would temporarily spread out the numbers but would also put those remaining schools closer to capacity and not take into consideration additional growth,” said Ambrose.

Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson Jackie Johnson says the school board is reconsidering where some of the funding goes and that Superintendent Carlee Simon has met with some of the city governments and wants input to revisit and revise some of the upcoming budget. “Dr. Carlee Simon is aware of the situation in the western rural communities and their projected growth,” said Johnson. “This has been a difficult time for funding, especially with the added cost of the pandemic, but she wants to make sure we disperse the funds from the school tax in a fair manner to all the communities in the county.”

“If they won't consider building a new school in this area to at least split the elementary and middle schools, they could at least put some of the sales tax money into the schools in the rural west of the county to provide more space and improve the facilities and technology,” Ambrose said. “Right now, we feel that there is no support in maintaining a good local education environment in our community.”

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Members of the GFWC High Springs New Century Woman’s Club saw a need and jumped at the chance to make a difference, not only in High Springs, but also in Newberry and Fort White as well. 

Members of the Woman’s Club teamed up with the High Springs Brewing Company and local citizens on Friday, June 25, to raise the funds needed to provide both High Springs and Newberry firefighters with additional safety equipment in the form of hoods to help protect the firefighters who help protect everyone else. 

The Ft. White Fire Department did not need the protective hoods so the Woman’s Club will provide supplies for their community outreach program instead. 

Club members sponsored and organized the fundraiser and raised close to $3,000, all of which will go to the three fire departments.  The protective particulate hoods cost $95 each and High Springs ordered 13 for their department.  Newberry ordered 12 hoods for their firefighters.

The hood protects the firefighter’s head, neck and shoulders from smoke, intense heat and carcinogens generated by fire.  Hoods reduce the chance of firefighters suffering serious medical issues later in life due to exposure to substances released during the fire.  “It’s not unusual at all for firefighters to develop cancer and other diseases later in life due to their exposure to toxins,” said High Springs Public Information Officer Kevin Mangan.

Citizens turned out in force to support the Woman’s Club members and their city’s firefighters.  “We couldn’t have asked for more support from our community,” said Woman’s Club Communications and Public Relations Chair Bonnie Josey.  “We are thankful we have our own fire department in High Springs and that Newberry does as well,” she said.  “We are always amazed by the generosity of the people in our community.”

High Springs Woman’s Club members donate their time, expertise and whatever else is needed to support their community and, in this case, three city fire departments are reaping the rewards of their hard work and dedication to the area.  “The High Springs Woman’s Club is our biggest ally and community partner,” Mangan said.  “We are thankful for all they do to support us.”

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Updated 4:45pm :Law enforcement has conducted a sweep of Buchholz High and given the all clear. Nothing suspicious was found.
 
GAINESVILLE - Buchholz is being evacuated due to a bomb threat. Students who are normally picked up after school or ride a school bus are being evacuated to the Boys and Girls Club down the street. Those who drive themselves or walk are being sent home directly.The district has sent an emergency phone message, text and email home to all BHS families.

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TALLAHASSEE - Today, the State Board of Education (FDOE) issued the Alachua and Broward County school districts with an Order demanding that they comply with state statute and rule. FDOE asserts that school board members of districts have willingly and knowingly violated the rights of parents by denying them the option to make health care decisions for their children – a blatant violation of the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which Governor DeSantis signed into law on June 29, 2021. And furthermore, that the FDOE has provided each district with numerous opportunities to correct their behavior in an attempt to find an amicable resolution to no avail. .

“It is important to remember that this issue is about ensuring local school board members, elected politicians, follow the law. These public officials have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida. We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” said Commissioner of Education Corcoran. “These are the initial consequences to their intentional refusal to follow state law and state rule to purposefully and willingly violate the rights of parents. This is simply unacceptable behavior.”

On July 30, 2021, Governor DeSantis issued and signed Executive Order 21-175. The policies of Alachua and Broward County school districts also do not comply with Florida Department of Health Emergency Rule 64DER21-12, Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.). That rule requires public schools to “allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt-out the student from wearing a face covering or mask.”

Each order specifically requires both school districts to document compliance with the Parents’ Bill of Rights and Florida Department of Health Emergency Rule 64-DER21-2, F.A.C., within 48 hours of receipt of the Order. If they continue to fail or refuse to comply with the law, they are ordered to provide the Commissioner of Education with information confirming the current annual compensation provided to all school board members within 48 hours.

As an initial step, the Florida Department of Education will then begin to withhold from state funds, on a monthly basis, an amount equal to 1/12 of the total annual compensation of the school board members who voted to impose the unlawful mask mandates until each district demonstrates compliance. In Alachua County, School Board members who voted to impose the mask mandate are Dr. Leanetta McNealy, Tina Certain, Dr. Gunnar F. Paulson, and  Robert P. Hyatt.

In complying with this order, the School District of Alachua County may not reduce any expenditures other than those related to compensation for school board members. Further, the School District of Alachua County may not permit the reduction of funds based upon this order to impact student services or teacher pay.The Commissioner of Education and State Board of Education retain the right and duty to impose additional sanctions and take additional enforcement action to bring each school district into compliance with state law and rule.

The Order also prohibits each school district from reducing any other expenditures other than those related to compensation for school board members, and clearly states each district may not permit the reduction of funds that impact student services or teacher pay.

Copies of each Order can be found at the links below.

Alachua: https://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/20001/urlt/Alachua5.pdf

Broward: https://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/20001/urlt/Broward4.pdf

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, gaining formal recognition of the property’s historic significance as a cultural and architectural resource to the State of Florida.

Constructed in 1944, the church building, located at 429 NW 4th Street, is a significant community asset for many reasons including its distinctive Late Gothic Revival architecture. It long has been a cultural centerpiece among Gainesville’s African American community for its historical significance as a religious and social gathering place during the civil rights movement (1944-1970). Dr. Thomas A. Wright (1920-2014), former reverend of Mount Carmel Church, and president of the Alachua County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), worked during the era to help desegregate the Alachua County school system.

Pastor Gerard Duncan of Prayers By Faith Family Ministries, whose congregation worships at Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church, says the efforts of community partners were crucial to its placement on the national register.

“The Prayers By Faith Family Ministries congregation, along with the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, would like to thank for their support: the Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee; the historic preservation staff at the Florida Division of Historical Resources; the Honorable Lauren Poe and the Gainesville City Commission; the Honorable Ken Cornell and the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners; and the City of Gainesville’s Department of Sustainable Development for working to make this designation a reality,” said Pastor Duncan.

The City of Gainesville was awarded a $50,000 Small Matching Grant from the state’s Division of Historical Resources for a rehabilitation and adaptive use plan for the church. Preserving and celebrating Gainesville history, heritage and Black culture is part of the City’s strategic plan to keep Gainesville as a great place for neighbors to live and thrive.

“The funding will be used toward digital documentation of the historic building, a conditions assessment and schematic rehabilitation plan, and the gathering of oral histories to support the congregation’s mission,” said Department of Sustainable Development Director Andrew Persons.

The nomination package for historic designation was prepared by the University of Florida’s Historic Preservation program former Director Morris Hylton, III; Adjunct Assistant Professor Linda Stevenson; and Doctoral Researcher Kristine Ziedina.

“Old Mt. Carmel’s history as a center for civil rights activism in Gainesville is emblematic of this building’s significance to the community, both historically and currently. We look forward to our partnership with Pastor Duncan and his congregation to assist with plans for continuous and future use as a community hub for social justice,” said Cleary Larkin, acting director of UF’s Historic Preservation program.

The project runs through June 30, 2022 and will be a collaborative partnership between Prayers By Faith Ministries, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, UF’s Historic Preservation program and the City of Gainesville. Follow the project website for information on upcoming events and updates: https://www.saveoldmountcarmel.org/

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ALACHUA COUNTY, FL –  Alachua County has instituted a mask mandate.  This comes after county officials report that at their meeting on August 18, 2021, the Alachua County Commission heard expert testimony on the alarming and dangerous spike in COVID-19 cases and the enormous strain it is putting on our residents, hospitals, and healthcare professionals. They also viewed expert testimony from the Alachua County School Board from the previous night.
 
 
 
The Commission voted unanimously to execute Short Term Emergency Order 2021-25 which requires a return to masking indoors. The Order goes into effect at 5 p.m. this evening (8-19-21). This action is in full compliance with recently enacted legislation concerning county emergency orders. As the law requires, the Order expires in seven days, can be renewed every seven days up to 42 days total, is narrow in its scope, and has compelling reasons for why it is needed.
 
 
“With this Order, the County has presented a clear, compelling, and overwhelming case for the need to react to the Delta variant which is running rampant in our community,” Commission Chair Ken Cornell explained. “While vaccines are the best tool for getting this latest spike under control, vaccines take time. Masking is an immediate, safe, and effective way for all of us to do our part.”
 
Concerning masking, the Order states:
 
  • A face mask shall be worn in all indoor places when there are more than two people present, with exceptions as provided by this Emergency Order. This requirement excludes private residences or spaces occupied by a single-family unit.
  • Such face masks shall be of a nature approved by the CDC and shall cover the mouth and nose and loop securely around the head or ears.
 
Signs for businesses are available here:
 
 

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TALLAHASSEE — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the appointment of Mildred Russell to the School Board of Alachua County.  Russell, of Gainesville, started Miracle Life Ministries with her husband in 1990. They started churches in Athens, Georgia and Oxford, England and have ministered across the world. She volunteered on Front Porch Florida and was a tutor at Duval Early Learning Academy. Russell attended Western Kentucky University.

Russell fills the seat left vacant when DeSantis removed Diyonne McGraw from the School Board, issuing executive order 21-147 in June declaring the seat vacant.  McGraw was elected to the Alachua County School Board District 2 in August 2020, but lives in District 4. The executive order read in part, "Due to Diyonne McGraw's failure to maintain the residence required of her by law, a vacancy exists on the Alachua County School Board, District 2, which I shall fill in compliance with the law."

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