Citizen’s Academy – Session 6 Update

Week six of the Alachua County Citizens Academy was held at the Freedom Center at Veterans Memorial Park, where participants had an opportunity to learn more about the monuments dedicated to those who lost their lives in armed conflicts.

Originally dedicated in 1993, the “Walk Through Time” shows major U.S. wars (starting in 1775) and features bricks stacked high. Each brick represents 1,000 military lives lost.

There are at least 267 names of deceased service members who entered the military from Alachua County inscribed on each corresponding war marker. A granite headstone at the flagpole also shows the names of 504 University of Florida students who died as a result of war.

The monument was rededicated in 2016 after it was rebuilt.
Veterans Memorial
Citizens Academy is an eight-week educational course, run by Alachua County Strategic Performance Manager Donna Bradbrook, that partners with local constitutional officers, judicial officers, library district, school board and health department to give residents a unique opportunity to learn about various aspects of local government and the daily activities performed by some of the county’s top officials.

Here is a recap of Session 6:

School District

The first presenter of the day was Jackie Johnson, the communications director for Alachua County Public School (ACPS). She explained that with more than 26,000 students and 4,000 employees throughout the county, the school district faces a unique set of complex issues daily that go well beyond just classroom instruction.

The district runs 40 different schools and centers, including the popular Camp Crystal. To keep up with facilities, initiatives and goals, district officials are working on a five-year strategic plan as well as a long-term facilities plan.

Among the notable challenges facing ACPS include bridging the achievement gap between white and minority students, ever-changing state laws and standardized tests and disciplinary issues that have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson explained how decreased funding for public education, unfunded state mandates and diversion of funding going to charter schools have put additional strain on the local education system.Jackie Johnson
About 53% of the district’s funding comes from the state, while another 46% comes from local funds (property tax rates that are set by the state). The remaining 1% comes from the federal government and is primarily made up of Medicaid funding.

The district has seen a decrease in its budget for nine consecutive years – and 13 out of the last 14 years. While the Florida Lottery provides funding for scholarships and advertising, Alachua County received $0 for discretionary spending.

Luckily, voters in Alachua County recognize the challenges and support public education.

In 2020, voters renewed the One Mill for the third time. The money costs homeowners about $14 a month and helps raise about $23 million annually for schools. About $1.5 million of that goes toward charter schools. 

“That’s what allows us to maintain our very robust art, music and drama programs, school counselors, school bands, school librarians, our academic magnets, our career tech magnets, classroom technology and it guarantees funding for school nurses,” Johnson said. 

The One Mill also fully or partially funds about 360 teaching jobs, which make up about 20% of the ACPS teacher workforce.

Additionally, voters also passed a half-penny sales tax in 2018 to help pay for construction and renovation projects at schools. So far, the funding has helped pay for revitalization projects at Metcalfe and Idylwild elementary schools and Bishop Middle School. It also helps with building the new Terwilliger Elementary School campus and expanding Oak View Middle School.

Future and ongoing projects include Westwood Middle School and Littlewood Elementary School. ACPS has also implemented several new initiatives at schools, Johnson explained. Recently, a year-round pilot school program was announced for Rawlings Elementary School, an HVAC program at Santa Fe High School and a barbering program at Eastside High School.

Learn more about Alachua County Public Schools.

Growth Management

Next up was the Alachua County Growth Management Department.

Senior Planner Gerald Brewington explained how the department has 47 full-time employees that are broken up into two divisions: The Office of Planning and Development and the Building Department.

The Building Department handles enforcement of the state uniform building code and in the field daily to ensure construction meets the code. The division is also responsible for issuing permits.Gerald Brewington
The Office of Planning and Development is responsible for updating the county’s comprehensive plan, which serves as a blueprint for growth and projects up to approximately 15 years out. 

Among the most frequent questions Brewington said he receives are about roads, rezoning properties, obtaining addresses for new developments, whether allowed to park RVs on residential properties, assessor dwelling units, and even about family cemeteries.

“A lot of people ask, ‘What does a planner do?’ What I do is answer questions,” Brewington said. “We get dozens of phone calls every day.”

Learn more about the Growth Management Department.

Supervisor of Elections

The duties of the Supervisor of Elections reach farther than just hosting elections once or twice a year.

Supervisor Kim Barton, who has been in office since 2017, is one of six elected constitutional officers in Alachua County. Her responsibilities include upholding county, state and federal election laws. They help and support in municipal elections around Alachua County, register voters, qualify candidates who run for office, keep statistics relating to voting, maintain voter rolls, defining polling locations and precinct lines.

Barton said her office stays busy when not running an election by hosting voter engagement workshops, tabling at events and doing voter registrations.

The supervisor’s office visits schools throughout the year to help educate children on civics and hosts fake elections with ballots.
Kim Barton
In 2019, the office earned the “Stars and Stripes Award” for its partnership with the University of Florida for the 2018 election. 

Early voting will be held at eight different locations in 2024, including at UF and Santa Fe College. For the upcoming primary election in August, Barton’s office will have 13 early voting days. For the general election, the office will have 14 days.

It’s going to be a busy election year,” Barton told the class. “You’re going to hear a lot of things. Some will be true and some will not be true. But always remember, our office is the official trusted source of information for elections. If you hear something and you’re not sure if it’s true or not, call our office.”

Learn more about the Supervisor of Elections Office.

For more information, contact Alachua County Public Information Officer Andrew Caplan at 352-264-6975 or

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