Horizon West residents start school coalition

The Horizon West School Coalition is a collaborative effort between parents, the community and leaders.

  • By
  • | 6:50 p.m. June 18, 2019
  • Southwest Orange
  • News
  • Share

With three new Horizon West-area schools slated to open this fall and three more in a year, some members of the community are looking to get more involved in advocating for them.

That’s why Horizon West resident Jodi Jessop and fellow parents, neighbors and community members have created the Horizon West School Coalition. After a meeting in January at Windermere High regarding the school’s portable situation as well as the Seidel relief high-school site, Jessop said she saw inconsistencies.

“We’re constantly behind the eight ball with building schools and are constantly overcrowded,” she said. “My cohort and I brainstormed together and came up with the coalition. … We have the perfect opportunity to form and mold the Horizon West community. We are at a position that no other community is at. The goal was to talk to the leaders and make some changes.”

The coalition is in its early stages, but already, some of its members are going to be meeting with District 15 state Sen. Victor Torres. Jessop said they will be discussing why Orange County schools specifically have to be over capacity before changes are made. 

“We’ve gone to community meetings and different meetings for the schools that are opening,” she said. “We’ve asked questions specifically about infrastructure — we’ve asked about what’s next and how can we get these schools to come online faster. We keep getting run up against the same answer, which is, ‘We can’t because of the state.’”

One of the coalition’s main concerns is the school overcrowding.

“We finally have a new middle school opening — why did it take 11 years?” she said. “Why is this arbitrary 150% over-capacity idea … in place when we have such growth? Things are getting moved up but not in a rapid enough timeframe. We’re also running up against not having infrastructure in place.”

Orange County Public Schools does not have a 150% capacity rule in place, said Lauren Roth, senior manager of facilities communications for OCPS. Rather, the issue lies in funding challenges. According to OCPS's document stating how school are build, there is no cutoff rate or formula that determines when a school will be relieved. New schools will open when enrollment is sufficient to support them, and schools needing relief may be temporarily overcrowded while the new school are built.

"There is no local or state rule that states a new relief school cannot be built until a school is at 150% capacity," Roth said. "If that were the case, we wouldn’t be designing a relief school for Windermere High School today, for example. OCPS has the most extensive and robust school planning process in the state. The reason schools are not built sooner is simple – funding.

"This is because impact fees and other mitigation fees do not cover the full cost of building relief schools," she said. "The limited dollars that the state provided in the past for building new schools has been diverted to charter schools. As a result of these factors, growth needs are prioritized by the OCPS Advance Planning committee and funded in that order."

Jessop added the coalition is fully a team effort, and those who are part of it or expressed interest in it want to be involved. They try to attend the meetings, because differences are made when people speak up.

“This is just people speaking up going, ‘This doesn’t sound right to me; how can we make it better?’” - Jodi Jessop

“I didn’t want to be another person complaining behind a keyboard — I wanted to show up and show people that, yes, this is a problem,” she said. “If we truly are the No. 5 fastest-growing community in the United States, why aren’t they demanding more from developers? I just don’t understand how this is a solid business plan.” 

Another concern for Jessop and her team is the issue of portables — an issue exacerbated by development in West Orange. The coalition recognizes it’s crucial to communicate with both Orange County Public Schools and Orange County.

“It’s not just an OCPS fight; it’s the county, too,” she said. “It’s also about the infrastructure that gets us to and from (schools). By the time a school opens, it’s already at 100% capacity, and if we were proactive, we wouldn’t have as many portables. The coalition is focused on a couple things, but these are all things I found out from trying to carve out a new path.”

The coalition is open to anyone, Jessop said, and the team welcomes anyone who has ideas or wants to participate to get involved. It’s a collaborative effort and the more contributors and contributions there are to the discussion, the better.

“This is just people speaking up going, ‘This doesn’t sound right to me; how can we make it better?’” she said. “I don’t have all the answers, so I’m certainly open to anyone and everyone who has information or something to share, so please come and contribute. I don’t know everything — the more I’m scratching the surface with this, the more I’m hearing.

“There’s so many broad tropics that are involved in this,” she said. “It’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than what just I can do, and that’s why we’ve opened it up.”


Related Articles