Ocoee split on charter school

Charter Schools USA reintroduced its plans at a community meeting after its contract to buy city land expired in October.

  • By
  • | 1:10 p.m. February 10, 2016
  • West Orange Times & Observer
  • News
  • Share

OCOEE  District 1 Ocoee Commissioner John Grogan hosted a community meeting Feb. 8 at Ocoee City Hall to allow representatives of Charter Schools USA and its development team to present their case for a charter school on West Road, just east of Fountains West Shopping Center.

CSUSA previously had received approval for a school at the northeast corner of the intersection of North Clarke and A.D. Mims roads, but its contract expired in October.

Representatives presented a series of points about overcrowded public schools, students within the vicinity making up most of some charter schools’ enrollment, CSUSA design, traffic flow at CSUSA schools, security and surveillance measures, short construction time, CSUSA school ratings, test scores, property values near A-rated charter schools and a New York City study indicating more people want to live where they have more education options.

CSUSA authorities said parents gave CSUSA a 95% satisfaction rating, with a recommendation of charter schools to their friends.

But opinions from Ocoee residents at the meeting varied from glowing to scathing, with some uncertain, leading to many heated moments.

One major concern resident Aly Verdasco raised was a series of sexual charges against CSUSA teachers regarding interactions with students. Representatives insisted the frequency of such incidences was blown out of proportion relative to what often happens in public schools.

Resident Michelle Greco asked why CSUSA kept coming back to propose a school in Ocoee. CSUSA officials said they continued to see a need in Ocoee based on public schools being over capacity.

Multiple residents had misgivings about adding traffic to the area around West Road, especially given stacking and parking issues at CSUSA’s charter school in Hunters Creek. Developers said that would not be an issue for an Ocoee location, adding no school has lost its charter while under CSUSA management.

On the subject of overcrowded public schools, an Orange County Public Schools official said charter schools’ average impact on lowering nearby public schools’ capacity has been 25 to 30 students, “not even a dent.” A resident disagreed, saying any mitigation helps in that regard.

Another resident asked how CSUSA construction could take just 23 weeks when OCPS construction takes much longer. Officials said size and scale were a large part of the difference, and the same construction company tends to build CSUSA schools, making the work increasingly familiar to crews.

A vote by show of hands near the end of the meeting, after many had cleared out, produced mixed results with a slight favor for the charter school.

The school would have an ultimate capacity of 1,145 students. It would start with grades kindergarten through sixth, with seventh and eighth grades added as the original sixth-graders would progress.

Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].