ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The St. Johns County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday morning to approve a new rezoning plan for two K-8 schools opening in the district next year.
The item was supposed to be one of the last things discussed, but it was moved to the top of the list at the start of the meeting and quickly approved by the board.
Students moving to School KK, in the northeastern part of the district, currently go to Ocean Palms Elementary, Valley Ridge Academy and Landrum Middle School.
For school LL, which is planned for the northwestern portion of the district, some students currently zoned for Cunningham Creek Elementary, Durbin Creek Elementary, Hickory Creek Elementary, Fruit Cove Middle, and Switzerland Point Middle would be going to that K-8 school starting in 2018-2019.
The district said the rezoning was needed to ease overcrowding because of explosive growth.
The five schools with students leaving next year to attend School KK are over capacity by about 1,800 students total. Five more schools with students leaving next year to attend School LL are over capacity by a total of about 1,400 students.
A spokeswoman for the district said 2,752 existing St. Johns County students will be making the move to the new schools, which can hold 2,980 between them.
She said that in the past several years, the district has gained an average of 1,500 new students per year, which is equivalent to two elementary schools or a high school.
Both new schools will open next year as K-6 schools, then expand to K-7 the following year and be fully K-8 in year three. That is a decision made by the superintendent, which didn’t need board approval, leaving some parents frustrated with the process.
“You shouldn’t spend three months, which I think is not enough time for rezoning to begin with, focused on one plan and a week before it comes out, make a dramatic change -- and it is a dramatic change -- impacting a lot of children, potentially multiple years of children at these new schools, without at least having a back-and-forth with the community and having engagement,” parent Denver Cook said. “The inability to have a public comment related to something the board was not going to be voting on reduced our ability to impact the decision-makers.”
Because the schools will open as K-6 next year, older students will be able to remain at the schools for which they are currently zoned, with transportation being provided the same way it is now.
Many parents said the rezoning is more of a headache, forcing them to have students at separate schools with more commuting, but most whose children will be a part of the grand opening at School KK said they have faith their children will still be in great hands.
“Ocean Palms, it’s been wonderful, but it’s extremely overcrowded,” mother of three Kristen Buttacavoli said. “We need growth. We continue to keep growing in Nocatee, so we have to be able to have a larger school. We have such wonderful parents that this move is going to be great, because of such involvement, and we’re going to make it great.”
Buttacavoli's two youngest -- Kayte and Quinn -- will be heading to first and sixth grades at School KK next year. She’s positive about the change, but some in the county are frustrated by the rezoning.
“I think when you have change, there’s always an opportunity to look at it both ways, and I can’t really find any way to look at the negatives, because it does us no good,” Buttacavoli said. “This is going to happen. We have to have it happen.”
Buttacavoli said she felt the district handled the rezoning process the best way possible and she has faith in the two new schools, and hopes other parents do, too.
Buttacavoli son, a sixth-grader at Landrum Middle, will get to stay there for seventh and eighth grades since he was grandfathered in.
To view "Plan C," as well as previous plans, visit www.stjohns.k12.fl.us/zoning.