Orange County Charter Review Commission rejects school cap proposal

The proposed Orange County charter amendment would have prevented schools from being at 120% capacity for more than two years.

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  • | 8:30 p.m. October 9, 2019
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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A proposed Orange County charter amendment intended to address school overcrowding has been denied.

The Orange County Charter Review Commission rejected a proposal made by Commissioner Lee Steinhauer during its Wednesday, Oct. 2, meeting. 

The proposal would have prevented schools from being at 120% capacity for more than two years, as well as added provisions to Article VII, section 704B.2 of the charter. Those provisions stated, “Orange County may not enter into an interlocal agreement for the purposes of implementing school concurrency unless the interlocal agreement, and any ordinance promulgated pursuant to same, provides that no Orange County public school may remain at or over 120% of its defined capacity (i.e. Adjusted FISH capacity) for any longer than a two-year period without a relief school being planned, or other arrangements being made to relieve over capacitated conditions, including, but not limited to, entering into partnerships with charter school(s) to provide relief.”

Winter Garden resident Jodi Jessop spoke during the meeting about the county’s overcrowding issues.

“We have such overcrowding in our schools that kids are sitting on the floor eating lunch,” she said. “(Portables) have been lowered by about 50%, but that’s still 50% too much. … To say we have to add on more schools, but we have to allot for portables because we have so many kids right now … that’s kind of defeating the purpose. … Let’s dig in. Let’s find out more. If 120 is not the right number, what’s the right number and how can we get there?”

Windermere resident Marci Sgattoni moved to the area in 2007, when her son started first grade at the newly opened Sunset Park Elementary School. That same year, Orange County Public Schools opened Bridgewater Middle School, and since then has opened Keene’s Crossing Elementary, SunRidge Elementary, SunRidge Middle, Bay Lake Elementary, Windermere High, Castleview Elementary, Water Spring Elementary and Horizon West Middle — all within the West Orange area.

Sgattoni said Orange County Public Schools is doing its best to keep up with growth.

“I’m not really sure what this amendment is trying to accomplish other than override existing processes that are in place and, quite frankly, seem to be working,” Sgattoni said. “Have we had a lot of portables along the way? Yes, portables that lend stability to our children, which is better than putting them in a situation where they have to be rezoned multiple times, sometimes just within their elementary school years. The biggest factor in my children having a successful year is not the location and not their classroom, but the quality of their teachers.

“This proposed amendment would hinder OCPS’ ability to plan for schools and collect (developer impact) fees,” she said. “I urge you to let Orange County Public Schools continue to build schools with their current processes that carefully and deliberately plan for school construction in a responsible way.”

Since 2003, OCPS has opened 53 new schools to accommodate growth and relieve overcrowding. 

Representatives from Orange County Public Schools — including Orange County School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs, District 7 Orange County School Board Member Melissa Byrd and District 4 Orange County School Board Member Pam Gould — also spoke during the Oct. 2 meeting. They said the amendment would hurt the district’s ability to make room for students.

“It doesn’t slow down growth,” Jacobs said. “It doesn’t speed up funding — it does the opposite. It reduces the amount of funding we’ll get in the future, because it says we can’t enter interlocal agreements with Orange County or municipalities. It means that the charter amendment that we have used for the last 15 years to reduce our portables by 50% while we’ve had growth, that charter amendment is annihilated.”

Jacobs said in a letter to the commission that the most detrimental aspect of the proposal is that it would “incentivize developers to build residential projects in areas zoned for significantly overcrowded schools (in excess of 120% of capacity), because projects impacting schools that are at 120% of capacity or more would be exempt from paying or contributing the necessary mitigation to address the impact on the overcrowded schools.”

Steinhauer said his only intention is to prevent students from being in an overcrowding situation.

“The attempt here is not to restrain your ability to build schools,” he said. “It’s to say that there is a limit — there is a ceiling of which going beyond that ceiling is unacceptable. This is a starting point for the conversation.”

After the meeting, Steinhauer said he wants to be part of the solution moving forward.

“Whether my solution is the right solution to solve the problem may not be the case, but I know that there’s a solution out there that we can work on with OCPS and other stakeholders and get it done,” he said. 

Jacobs said after the meeting that she was optimistic about OCPS getting in front of the school overcrowding in the future. 

“We’ve reduced portables by 50% since 2007,” she said. “We’re on the cusp of catching up, but if you’re one of these parents and you’re in an overcrowded school, that’s not good enough. I think there are some things that we can do — just making sure that the board sees at least twice a year what these capacity levels look like.”


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