Read our exclusive Q&A with Orange County School Board Chair candidate Teresa Jacobs.
What is the single biggest challenge facing OCPS?
Lack of adequate state funding. Money doesn’t solve everything but, in this case, every challenge OCPS faces is made worse (because of) inadequate funding — from school safety, to school overcrowding, to recruiting and retaining teachers.
What is the best way for the district to address school safety?
No one single approach is sufficient. In 2012, immediately after the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School, I offered to fund deputies in all unincorporated elementary schools. I also convened a Youth Mental Health Commission. Today, Orange County funds two mental-health programs available to all schools. A law-enforcement officer should be at the entrance of every school. Additional efforts must be undertaken to harden all schools, and to utilize technology and cameras to keep weapons out.
How should OCPS handle the issue of school overcrowding?
We need more state funding to keep pace with growth. As a commissioner, I championed a charter amendment requiring the Orange County Board of County Commissioners to seek a determination from OCPS of whether there will be adequate school capacity, before approving residential land uses. In 2004, as a county commissioner, I voted to place OCPS’s half-cent sales tax on the ballot to help pay for new school construction. I supported that effort as mayor in 2014. The public supported all three of these efforts. We need the state to honor its obligation to provide funding.
How would you improve communication between the School Board and Orange County?
I began this process before I even considered running for office. In 1997 and 1998, as the OCHA education chair, I worked with both Orange County and OCPS to create the first school-siting ordinance that created safe havens for new schools. Next, I championed a charter amendment that requires communication and coordination between Orange County and OCPS. What I will bring to the School Board, if elected, is a direct understanding of the planning and land-use approval processes of the county, as well as great working relationships with county commissioners and staff.
Why are you running for Orange County School Board chair?
I have always been a staunch advocate for public education, so when Bruce and I moved to Orange County and our four children entered Orange County Public Schools, I volunteered in my children’s classroom, served on School Advisory Councils and PTAs. As the education chair for (Orange County Housing Authority), I worked directly with the school district, School Board and superintendent on many issues. As my term as mayor comes to a close, I would like the opportunity to serve where I can the greatest difference in our community. I believe that is serving as the chair of OCPS.
What do you want to accomplish as School Board chair?
I want to make our schools the safest in the state, create a culture that rejects bullying and promotes discipline in the classroom, a culture that supports, respects and compensates teachers as professionals. We need to ensure every child in every classroom, including those with special needs and unique abilities, has the resources they need to achieve their full potential. We need to continue to foster high academic achievement, while reducing barriers to entry to career technical training offered through OCPS’s Orange Technical College for those students who are not college bound.