Roughly 105 Oriole Beach Elementary School students will be attending Gulf Breeze Elementary next school year. The School Board voted Thursday night to redistrict the schools during a public hearing in Milton.
The change was prompted by schools reaching and exceeding their capacities due to rapid growth rates in the areas. Three elementary schools in the Pace area were also impacted by the redistricting plan.
In Midway, Oriole Beach Elementary School has reached 108 percent of its built capacity. That equates to roughly 70 more students than there is space. Santa Rosa School Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said the district has exhausted all tools to keep students in their current schools.
“There’s nowhere else to put a portable,” he said of Oriole Beach.
With all seats full and nowhere to put new ones, he said the district had to find somewhere for students to go.
Gulf Breeze Elementary School is currently at roughly 82 percent capacity. Under the change Oriole Beach will be at 96 percent capacity and Gulf Breeze will be at 94 percent according to district data.
Parents addressing the board during the hearing opposed the change. Ingrid Hewett serves as the Parent Teacher Association President for Gulf Breeze Elementary.
She questioned whether the district was effectively planning ahead for growth and called the redistricting a temporary bandaid for the larger problem.
Wyrosdick said the discussion has been ongoing at the local and state level for years. He said they are limited in how and when they can build new schools due to state statute.
Other parents voiced concerns about the impact of the change on their students, bus schedules and what will be done in the future as growth continues.
School Board member Wei Ueberschaer represents the Gulf Breeze area schools. She said she understands the frustration.
“This is not an easy issue. We don’t take this lightly…After going over all the options, this is what is best for the children,” she said.
Ueberschaer pointed out that more than just crowding and bigger class sizes, being over capacity is an issue of safety for students.
As growth continues to impact the schools, the district is pursuing construction of a new K-8 school near Elkhart Drive in Midway. Once the school is built, additional redistricting will be done.
The districting change impacts neighborhoods north of U.S. Highway 98 east of Stanford Road to the existing district line at Whispering Bay Boulevard. It would include subdivisions such as the Ranchettes and other surrounding neighborhoods. The coastal homes north of this property are already zoned for Gulf Breeze Elementary.
Farther north, S. S. Dixon Primary and S.S. Dixon Intermediate in Pace are facing similar problems with current capacities of 107 percent and 100 percent respectively.
The redistricting will transfer 91 students from those two schools into Pea Ridge Elementary School which currently is at 83 percent of its capacity. The change will put all three schools at or below 100 percent.
Currently, 10 schools across the district are at or above 100 percent capacity based on school district calculations.
For more information about how the school district tackles growth and the requirements to build new schools pick up the April 18 edition of the Navarre Press or subscribe at NavarrePress.com/subscribe.