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School board schedules a vote on Superintendent Simon’s contract for March 1, refuses to approve new charter school

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At the Alachua County School Board’s February 8 regular meeting, the board voted to accept evaluations of Superintendent Carlee Simon’s job performance before agreeing to put her contract on the agenda of their March 1 regular meeting.

The agenda item on Tuesday night’s meeting simply read “2020-2021 Evaluation of the Superintendent,” and Chair Rob Hyatt was adamant that the only vote would be whether to accept the evaluations (from Simon herself and each of the five board members) into the record.

However, many elected officials and members of the public showed up to praise or criticize Simon. County Commissioners Ken Cornell and Anna Prizzia and Gainesville City Commissioners David Arreola and Desmon Duncan-Walker all spoke in her favor. 22 people either spoke in the boardroom or called in with a mix of positive and negative feedback on Simon’s performance. An educator who did not give her name said, “Morale for teachers has never been as low as it is this year.”

Despite Hyatt’s instructions that the discussion was only about accepting the evaluations, both Member Leanetta McNealy and Member Tina Certain gave statements in support of Simon.

The vote to accept the evaluations was unanimous. However, at the end of the meeting during board member requests, Member Mildred Russell said there was “enough material of concern” that she wanted to add a discussion to the next board meeting to “discuss further what this evaluation means to the board and to the superintendent.”

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Hyatt said the item could not be added to next week’s agenda because it had already been finalized, so Russell asked whether it could be added to the board’s March 1 regular meeting.

Simon asked Russell whether she planned to ask the board to set strategic priorities for her in the coming year, and Russell responded, “Partly yes, but also to just take a look at the results of the evaluation and what that means to the board. I mean, there were three members of the board who had a lot of concerns. And I want us to discuss those because we need a remedy going forward… I don’t know if we can just continue the way we are.”

Simon then asked, “Are you asking to put my contract on the next board meeting?” Russell paused and then answered, “Yes.”

Constellation Charter School not approved

Also on the agenda was the Constellation Charter School Contract, which Simon had recommended for approval. Member Gunnar Paulson moved to approve the contract, and Russell seconded the motion.

McNealy was concerned about the location, saying that charter schools on the east side of Gainesville attract students from under-enrolled schools, so she wasn’t in favor of charter schools in east Gainesville. The representative of the charter school said they were hoping to sign a contract to use the education wing of United Church of Gainesville on NW 5th Avenue near the university, but McNealy continued to say the location was a reason for her to vote against the charter school.

Member Tina Certain said she wasn’t in favor of opening any more charters because of the impact on the district’s enrollment, but it wouldn’t matter if the board voted against it because the charter school could just appeal to Tallahassee. She said it was another example of local boards being “stripped of local control.”

The contract was not approved on a vote of 2-3, with only Russell and Certain voting in favor of the motion.

Updated on February 11 to correct an error in how board members voted on the charter school.

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