ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla — The St. Johns County school board is making changes to its proposed rezoning maps for next school year. The board says it’s part of an effort to both accommodate two new schools being built and balance out overcrowding in other area schools.
In a meeting this week, the school board talked amongst itself to rule out zoning options “B” and “C” to move students living in the Shearwater and Rivertown neighborhoods into those new schools. Today, school board members said taking away those options is a definite decision.
“We got so much feedback from those two groups [of parents] that it was obvious we didn’t want to move in that direction,” school board member Beverly Slough said.
But the board is also handling feedback from an entirely separate group of parents, ones standing against the board’s proposal to move Pacetti Bay middle school students to Sebastian Middle School next year.
Ann Taylor is among the parents not happy about the possibility.
“It just doesn’t appear to be in the best interest of our kids,” Taylor said. “It seems like a quick fix, and we’re not looking at things through a long-term strategy.”
The board’s current strategy would be to move about 400 students from PBMS to SMS next year to relieve its overcrowding issue. Right now, the board says PBMS has 1525 students. The school’s capacity is 1228.
But some parents, like Taylor, worry the board’s rezoning of those students would push one school’s problem onto another.
SMS, currently, has 630 students, with a capacity of 872, according to the board. If those students from PBMS were zoned there next year, the school would have 1,027 students before its 8th-grade class moves on, which is about 150 students over capacity. The board projects around 844 students at SMS next year.
“We’re just shifting the problem instead of solving the problem,” Taylor said.
But at the center of the overcrowding problem is the county’s growth, board members tell me. The board says moving students is one part of a larger plan to make room for more schools while relieving the others.
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“To find a way to do that where we don’t disrupt the lives of everybody, that’s what we want, we want to find a ‘sweet spot’ someplace,” Slough said.
The school board’s set to vote on its new zoning maps in November, which, right now, includes the plan to move PBMS students to SMS.
Parents started a petition to stop it, with more than 1,600 signatures. Ann Taylor’s is one of them, hoping the board will delay its decision.
“That’s all we’re asking for, is that we put a halt on things in November and not do anything rash,” Taylor said.
The school board says it’s still in the early stages of creating its official map to rezone students next year. The board says parents will have the chance to weigh in again during its meeting on September 26th.