Usually the cardinal rule of any investigation is simple: follow the money.

But in the case of whether or not to place a Lee County School District high school in Gateway or Alva, you’d be better off following the statewide testing grades.

After the Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee inexplicably recommended on April 11 that the school district build the next high school in Alva instead of Gateway by a 6-4 vote, we asked the very simple question of “what are we missing?” on our Facebook page.

The district’s Construction Advisory Committee had been tasked with formally evaluating both LCSD-owned locations, and they came out with a 10-1 recommendation in favor of the Gateway site.

Why was that? That’s easy.

The Gateway site has 1,985 students in grades 5-9 living within 2 miles of it, compared to 185 in Alva.

And Gateway is “plug and play” as far as all the utilities go, compared to Alva who have no water, sewage or electricity for miles and miles.

So how did EDAC side 6-4 with Alva?

A source within the LCSD who is highly familiar with the Gateway vs Alva issue called me yesterday and filled me in on the dynamics happening within some schools and administrative buildings right now.

LCSD officials in the East Zone are – and excuse the vulgar term but this is an exact quote – “shitting a brick” over the Gateway community being awarded a new high school.

It is widely believed within the LCSD that the average Gateway student traditionally tests above average when compared to the rest of the East Zone in statewide testing.

For that reason, administrators connected to Riverdale High School and Lehigh Senior High School are deeply concerned that their school ratings would “drop like a rock” if all of the Treeline Avenue and Gateway students were suddenly re-assigned from those schools and permitted to attend the potential new Gateway High School.

We’re told it’s being described as the “brain drain” by LCSD staff around the district’s water coolers.

And this is at least part of the reason that EDAC members sided with building a school in Alva instead of Gateway, according to our source inside the LCSD. Some EDAC members were apparently reluctant to play a part in degrading the future state testing scores at Riverdale and/or Lehigh Senior.

Assuming Gateway’s kids do score above average in state testing, it makes sense.

If the school is built in Alva then it will remain status quo at Riverdale and Lehigh Senior.

But if the school is built in Gateway then huge shifts in the Riverdale student body will occur. Within just a few years virtually none of Gateway’s parents will be writing down the number ‘1’ beside Riverdale — indicating that Riverdale is their top choice — on the student assignment request forms, and they’ll be placing that ‘1’ beside Gateway.

And what would happen to Riverdale’s highly coveted International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme if its school rating suddenly fell?

As you can see, the stakes are pretty high.

This could explain how it’s possible that the Construction Advisory Committee, none of whom are directly connected to the LCSD, objectively scored the Gateway site so much higher than Alva – while at the same time EDAC members, nearly all of whom have jobs within the LCSD and are subject to internal politics, sided with Alva.

This whole time we thought the “tug of war” (as NBC-2 described it on television last night) was between Gateway and Alva.

But it’s not.

It’s between Gateway and Riverdale.

And this whole time Gateway’s parents thought the decision would be about cost savings and population data.

But it’s not.

It’s about politics.

Alva Inc. can make as much noise as they’d like, Gateway parents can hold rallies, and the media can produce all the news pieces they want. But at the end of the day it’s going to come down to seven elected School Board members sitting in a room on June 6, and what they think.

Will they choose to do what’s best for Lee County tax payers? Or will they choose to continue to scatter Gateway’s kids across the East Zone to create academic parity?

It will be interesting to watch.

The District Advisory Council will meet on April 19 at 6pm to discuss the new school. And once again, the board will meet June 6 to vote between Gateway and Riverdale – er, I mean … Alva.

Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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