Robert P. Hyatt: School Board planning for future with land purchase – Opinion – The Ledger

In November 2018, the voters of Alachua County approved the following language by an almost two-to-one vote:

“Half-Cent Sales Surtax to Improve School Facilities

Shall the School Board of Alachua County levy a half-cent sales surtax to finance safety and security improvements; repair, renovation and remodeling of Board-owned schools, including modernization of classrooms, science labs and other spaces; technology; elimination of portable classrooms; new construction; land acquisition and improvement; and other school facilities projects; with oversight by an independent citizens’ committee? The tax would begin January 1, 2019 and last twelve years.” (emphasis added)

In a February 2020 workshop, all five board members indicated approval for Assistant Superintendent Paul White and his department to enter into negotiations for the purchase of a 37-acre parcel of land in the Jonesville area. This is the same parcel that was ranked as the top choice by the School Planning Advisory Committee after a year-long study. After two independent appraisals, a price was negotiated at $3.68 million.

This contract was brought before the board during the May 5 meeting. After receiving public input via emails and by phone, a robust discussion ensued. The board approved the purchase by a 3-2 vote.

Planning for the future of public schools in Alachua County remains a duty and responsibility of the current School Board, even during the pandemic. A strategic purchase benefits children, families and taxpayers.

The superintendent and the district’s response to the current crisis has included distance learning, distribution of thousands of laptop computers, serving hundreds of thousands of meals, using school buses as mobile Wi-Fi hot spots and more. We continue to adapt to a very fluid environment.

This is not an either/or situation. We can adjust to new realities imposed by COVID-19 and be confident that there will be a need for a new school on the Jonesville property within 10 years. The purchase price of this parcel is less than 1% of planned capital outlay expenditures during the life of the tax.

Next month construction starts on the almost total rebuilding of Howard Bishop Middle, Metcalfe Elementary and Idylwild Elementary schools. To see the financial investments being made in all of our school facilities, visit the Alachua County Public Schools website at

Reasonable people can disagree with decisions made by the board. When incomplete or misleading information is presented as fact and floated on social or print media, it is difficult to see the whole picture.

Robert P. Hyatt is an Alachua County School Board member.

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