BY JENNIFER CABRERA / MAY 10, 2019
Other articles in this series include Overview and City of Gainesville and Alachua County. Parts 4 and 5 will cover higher education and local employers.
School board bottom line: $4,927,795
On Wednesday, April 24, the Alachua County Chapter of the NAACP and the United Church of Gainesville (Racial Justice Task Force) hosted a town hall meeting at the Thelma Boltin Center on “Understanding Racial Inequities in Alachua County: Where are we now?”
The goal of the meeting was for officials from the city, county, school board, and large employers to explain how their organizations have responded to the January 2018 report, “Understanding Racial Inequity in Alachua County” prepared by the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR).
Five questions were given to each organization before the meeting:
- How have the “Inequity Study” results been incorporated into your institution’s plans, goals, and job assignments?
- Quantify the specific expenditures that have been allocated toward achieving the above.
- How is success in increasing equity being measured by your institution?
- What are your institution’s plans for the next 1-5 years for increasing equity?
- Provide an anecdote of success that will encourage us in our hope for positive change.
Questions were also taken on notecards from the roughly 160 attendees, and some of the officials gave answers to a few of the questions before time ran out. The remaining question cards were sorted by organization and given to each organization’s representatives at the end of the meeting.
Alachua Chronicle reporters attended the meeting, and we will divide our coverage into separate articles for the City, County, School Board, higher education, and local employers; this article covers the responses from the Alachua County School Board.
The School Board was represented by Tina Certain, District 1. In her statement, she sounded like she had been given the assignment at the last minute, but she quickly focused on the school board’s lack of results and accountability, given the money it’s spending on equity programs. She acknowledged a history of education inequality in Alachua County and said that the school board had created an Office of Equity in 2017, had hired an Equity Director, and had created a Comprehensive Equity Plan. She said the district uses “culturally responsive” teaching.
At the same time, though, she said there was “no coordinated attack” to improve equity. She said that although the graduation rates had improved in the past year, some of the “graduates” (she used air quotes) had not been proficient on their 10th-grade FSA (Florida State Assessment), so she questioned whether they should have graduated and said we are doing them a disservice. She said these students don’t perform well in the courses that are required for an AA degree and that the district must do a better job of defining success metrics (her opinion is that “success is students reading and writing at grade level”). She also said that although the district has a lot of programs that are supposed to improve equity, it’s not clear who these funds are expended for.
What are schools doing to infuse black history in K-12 education year-round, not just during Black History Month?
Certain replied the school board would have professional development training in May to address that.
What are schools doing about implicit bias training? Vocational training?
Certain replied that it’s no longer called vocational training; it’s called Career & Technical Education (CTE). Most of the CTE programs are at Loften High School, but attendance is low because the school has a stigma, based on its history as a school reserved for at-risk students. Traditional vocational programs like training for electricians, HVAC technicians, and plumbers are at Santa Fe College.
What is the resource allocation for equity?
Certain replied that she ran on a platform of equity accountability, but we don’t know yet what’s being spent because the budget is being developed now. (However, the school board provided a list of expenditures for 2018-19.)
There’s a westward push in Gainesville; how do we bring development east? Government has talked about it for years; when do we see it?
Certain replied that we need to improve the schools in east Gainesville; “let’s not keep doing what we’ve been doing in the past.” If the schools are good, people will move to neighborhoods zoned for those schools, and businesses will follow.
How are you going to improve public transportation? How can students get from the east side to Santa Fe College?
Certain replied that when her daughter dual-enrolled at SFC, she bought her daughter a car, but not everyone can do that. She said SFC is working with RTS to get bus passes that would let students ride free, as UF students do. She said we need to improve mass transit.
In their Equity Update, the School Board lists a number of strategies they are pursuing to reduce inequity. Among these initiatives:
- Some high school students are now able to take college courses (dual enrollment courses from SFC) during the school day on their high school campuses. This eliminates transportation barriers.
- The AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program is currently in use at GHS, Westwood, Mebane, and SFHS and will be expanded to Howard Bishop next year. AVID promotes college and career readiness and success for all students.
- The district is screening all 2nd graders (currently in 14 elementary schools but expanding to all elementary schools next year) to determine eligibility for gifted programs.
- The district pays for all 11th-graders to take the ACT at their schools, during the school day.
- The district pays for all 8th-graders to take the PSAT to help recruit students for advanced courses.
- The Edgenuity Credit Retrieval program helps students graduate on time after falling behind on credits.
- The magnet lottery reserves 25% of magnet program slots for students selected via lottery.
A separate document listed the expenditures for these and other programs. We added up the local funds that were used for these expenditures, including adult education funds but not counting programs that were paid for with grants, and they totaled $4,927,795.