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School board sets millage rate, discusses Superintendent’s response to the Commissioner of Education

Antoinette Chanel walks away from the podium

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Special Budget Meeting

At the September 7 Alachua County School Board Special Budget Meeting, the board set the millage rate at 6.8430, a decrease from last year’s rate of 6.9150 but a 4.5% increase over the rolled-back rate of 6.5484. The rolled-back rate is the rate that would generate the same amount of revenue as the previous year’s rate generated, given the increase in value of properties in the district. A homeowner who has a house with a market value of $125,000 (with a theoretical increase to $135,000 this year) and a homestead exemption would see an annual tax increase of $4.78 with the proposed millage rate because “Save Our Homes” limits the property value increase to 1.4% this year. The school district’s budget will increase $4.2 million to $481.4 million before adding in the ESSER II funds. 

During public comment on the budget item, Josh Long said he opposed the tax increase because the board “just decided to write a blank check to the superintendent” to hire outside counsel to sue the State of Florida. About a minute and a half into his comments, he removed his mask, saying he was having a hard time breathing. Chair Leanetta McNealy interrupted him and said he would have to put it back on, and deputies appeared at his side, asking him to leave. He verified with McNealy that she would not permit him to finish his time, and he left.

Alachua County Education Association President Carmen Ward complained that her organization had not been included in discussions about how to spend the ESSER funds. 

New School Board Member Mildred Russell asked if the proposed rate was required to qualify for state funding, and Alex Rella, Finance-Chief, said the school district is “required to levy that rate,” which is determined from a formula developed by the legislature.

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The resolutions to pass the budget and approve the proposed millage rate passed unanimously. 

Regular meeting

The board then began their Regular Meeting. During general public comment, Antoinette Chanel told the board about an incident in which a school bus driver in Newberry nearly hit her 8-year-old daughter. She read from her phone and seemed to have prepared her comments to include all the relevant details. She said that one of the consequences of the incident is that her daughter now wants to know why it’s ok for school bus drivers to break traffic laws. But McNealy had set the limit at 2 minutes (instead of the usual 3 minutes) in spite of the fact that only a few people were signed up to speak, and Chanel ran out of time. When McNealy tried to interrupt her, she said, “Oh, I’m not stopping!” Deputies approached to escort her out, and she asked McNealy, “What are you going to do? I came for answers, I had to hire a babysitter to watch my children so I could be at this meeting, and you printed the wrong address on the agenda.” By this point, the deputies were touching her back and telling her she needed to leave, so after a brief discussion with the deputies, she walked away. Before she left the room, though, she said loudly, “I’m not done, and you are not allowed to place my life and my children’s lives in danger by empowering reckless people.” She left the room while McNealy thanked the officers.

After the board approved the General Purpose Financial Statements and Related Cost Report, Board Member Gunnar Paulson spoke up during the Board Member comment period about Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon’s decision to not submit daily reports about disciplinary actions taken by the district against students who do not comply with the mask mandate. Paulson said, “I believe in wearing masks, and I also believe in respecting positions, even if I don’t agree. We take the position that we require students to wear masks unless they have a medical opt-out. I agree with this position.” However, he said that Broward County is submitting the reports, and since the school district has joined Broward County Public Schools in a lawsuit, they should be doing the same things. “Whether we agree with people at the State or not, when they ask for something, I think we should adhere to that… I don’t think we can ignore the Secretary of Education.” Paulson said Broward County is submitting the reports “in the spirit of cooperation… I feel very strongly about this… I’m just one person out of five, but if nobody else agrees with me…”

Russell said, “I agree with you, Dr. Paulson,” and he said, “Thank you.”

Member Tina Certain said Dr. Simon “used her professional judgment… I didn’t have a problem with how she responded to that.”

McNealy added, “I appreciate the Superintendent, I appreciate her comments, I respect the position of Commissioner of Education, as well as the national Secretary of State [sic] at the national level, but there is a two-way street here, and sometimes people who get in authority forget that there is a two-way street. That’s how I see it.”

Member Rob Hyatt said, “To me, I don’t ever and never have thought of this as defying the governor… but we did what we did based on conditions in Alachua County, Florida, based on expert testimony by world-class physicians and scientists… The more it’s considered political – by anybody – the worse it is because I know I made my decision based on people that know a bit more than I do about this disease and what’s happening… What I would like to do is continue with that emphasis, that we are responding to the conditions in our community. I think it’s a fight that didn’t need to start, but I think we did the right thing.”

Russell said she agreed with what Broward County said about the spirit of cooperation: “We can disagree and still, to whatever measure you can, cooperate and show respect. And I think you win more friends with honey than you do with vinegar. Whenever we have an opportunity to do something positive, I think we should do that.”

McNealy said she agreed, and “I think that’s what we were doing all along, as Mr. Hyatt said.”

Superintendent Simon said the school leaders “are very busy trying to educate our students and navigate COVID – that’s contact tracing, that’s testing, that’s testing a student who’s symptomatic and quarantining, that’s having the 5-day testing, and that’s just navigating COVID, so their job has already expanded. The Commissioner of Education has made a request, but I will say what the Commissioner of Education statutorily has the authority to request would be monthly and periodic reporting of non-compliance, and that’s in 1008.324(d). The Commissioner of Education asked for daily at 5:00 reports of, quite honestly, information that we 1) believe we’re in compliance with, but 2) the scale and scope and the operational needs in order to do this every day, I believe is unreasonable, and I think our school leaders have so much going on, and in order to discern what the Commissioner of Education is wanting, based on the language that was used, is even more so problematic.”

Paulson repeated some of his earlier statements in an attempt to win over a third board member, and then McNealy adjourned the meeting.  

  • Look at the incredibly bloated school board budget. Cheaper to attend Oak Hall, on a per student basis.

  • What a bunch of commie bully tyrants…The disease ( a renamed common cold) that has a 99.8% survival rate. Hey, teachers! Leave them kids alone! It’s child abuse to tape a mask over a Kids face while at school. Try doing
    That to me and see what happens…try picking on someone your own size.

  • What in tarnation is happening to this school board it’s been hijacked by petty Tyrants!

  • P.Floyd, Interesting points. Can you provide me with some facts? How is it a renamed common cold? Where are you getting the 99.8% number from? Is it the teachers or the school board coming up with the mask policy? And all adults at school have to wear a mask – so I think the school board is picking on you too.

  • Most weeks I work well over 70hrs. And yes I am a complete slacker as I have taken 4 paid vacation days thus far this year. P. Floyd is trying to inform us of facts – just want to know what the sources are. Facts = reality?

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