Board votes ‘no’ on citywide rezone

Published 10:40 pm Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Suffolk School Board voted Thursday evening to rezone parts of North Suffolk to fill Col. Fred Cherry Middle School and Florence Bowser Elementary School, both of which are opening next year, while leaving the rest of the city untouched.

Prior to the vote, parents and teachers had one more opportunity to plead for their preferred proposals.

“In the past five years I’ve seen huge growth in Suffolk, and I think we all know what that means for our school,” Brandy Roberts said. “We need to solve the problems today and not put a Band-Aid on the issue. Rezoning eventually needs to happen, and all we are doing is prolonging the issues. I’m confident that change we can and will continue to do well.”

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Roberts was the only person who spoke highly in favor of a citywide rezoning. Most of Thursday’s speakers opposed it, and some threatened to move their children to private schools if the proposals passed.

“Any effort to rezone him to a downtown school will result in him being moved to a private school,” Pioneer Elementary School parent Wendy Murray said of her son. “I won’t subject my child to that type of environment. That’s the situation you’re going to find yourself in with a lot of parents. I am not going to accept it.”

“If you change my school zone to Booker T., you are taking away my children from appropriate child care,” Pioneer parent Heather Butler said. “You are uprooting any stability I give them in a divided house. I would like you to take in consideration that they are already there and established.”

The School Board had a number of options. Within each level of education, there were two options. One option for the elementary and middle levels was for a citywide rezoning, and the other only rezoned for the two new schools. At the high school level, the options were to rezone Lakeland and King’s Fork or to maintain the current zoning.

The approved plans fill the new middle school and alleviate severe overcrowding at John Yeates Middle School, the most over-capacity school in the district. They also fill the new Florence Bowser Elementary School with the current Driver Elementary School student population while alleviating overcrowding at Creekside Elementary School.

The elementary and middle proposals that only affected North Suffolk passed unanimously.

The high school proposal to maintain current zoning was approved 5-1, with David Mitnick opposing and Michael Debranski abstaining.

After voting had concluded, all the board members thanked their constituents for voicing their opinions on the proposals.

“I want to thank everyone for coming to the town hall meeting and emailing me. It helped me shape the votes I made,” Mitnick said.

“We vote for our children, but also in accordance with our constituents,” Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck said. “Interested parents make all the difference.”

Also at the meeting, the board voted to approve option No. 2 for school schedule changes. This option puts all elementary schools on the same schedule, starting school at 9:25 a.m. and getting out at 3:50 p.m. High-school students will start at 8:25 and get out at 3, while middle schools maintain their current schedule. They start school at 7:25 and get out at 2.