by Shyam Allard

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – All but three Alachua County elementary schools are over capacity, with some at 120 and 130 percent, and state funding is no where to be found to alleviate the issue.

Jackie Johnson, director of communications and community initiatives for Alachua County Public Schools, explained what it means for a school to be over capacity in an interview Wednesday.

“We don’t want people to think that overcrowded schools means overcrowded classrooms, because that usually is not the case,” Johnson said. “What it does mean is that your core facilities, things like your lunchroom or your media center, are really not as big as you need them to be, considering your population.”

Johnson then described what some schools have to do in order to deal with having a lunchroom that’s too small.

“So you may end up, for example, having kids start lunch at 10, 10:15 in the morning,” Johnson said. “Simply because you’ve got so many students, it takes you that long to cycle them through the cafeteria.”

But what is the solution? Johnson said that building another elementary school is the ideal way to deal with the problem, but the county gets very limited facilities funding from the state these days.

“Three out of the last five years we’ve received absolutely no state funding for facilities and we have a lot of needs in this district, not just for additional classroom space, but to maintain the schools that we already have, most of which are between 30 and 40 years old, and they need work,” Johnson said.

In the mean time, schools have to make do with the facilities they have available to them. Teachers have to as well.

Alachua Learning Academy Principal and Director KP Rivera, is well aware of the difficulties teachers have had to go through.

“I see it both in our teachers and the teachers that come for interviews to our school,” Rivera said. There’s just a frustration of teachers not having the resources they need in order to do the job that they want to do, to the extent that they want to do it.”

Unfortunately, because of these problems, Johnson says that less people are getting into education during a time when there is more demand for teachers than there was during the recession and even before that.

“They’re concerned about the pay,” Johnson said. “They’re also concerned about the huge demands that are being placed on teachers, particularly by politicians, without enough resources to get the job done.”

Rivera thinks that society needs to place more value on education and invest more in children in general.

“I truly believe that our kids are our future,” Rivera said. “If they have good foundational education, then they can grow up to make intelligent, informed decisions about what’s best for our society.”

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