Sentinel Staff Writer
May 20, 2008
An angry mob of Orange County parents continued to marshal plans to reverse a controversial bell-schedule swap Monday night while officials in Lake County began to consider similar cost-savings plans.
From dipping into reserve funds to charging students to take Avanced-Placement tests, more than 200 Orange County parents and students offered a litany of budget alternatives.
They demanded that the school district look harder at its budget to cut anywhere other than the transportation department so that they could return to their current school schedules.
And if they didn´t, parents threatened, they will be sorry.
Parents threatened strong protests if officials don´t return to the current schedule.
“We will walk out,” said Elizabeth Muckler, whose sons attend Piedmont Lakes Middle and Apopka High. She said she has gathered at least 600 students who will not go to school on critical days when the state counts attendance for funding purposes. She expects that by the time the first count comes in October, she´ll have thousands more behind her.
“They are not being wise with our money, yet they are quick to take all this away,” she said.
Last week in a 4-3 vote, the School Board approved what members said is a cost-saving measure to swap the middle- and high-school days.
In August, high schools will begin and end later -- from about 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Middle schools will run from about 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The decision sent shock waves across the county.
Rick Roach, a School Board member who voted against the proposal to swap the bell schedule, called the meeting to gather ammunition for an appeal he plans to make to his colleagues to consider a revote on the issue.
“I have one shot to persuade them, and I don´t want to give you any false hopes,” he said. “I feel there is some evidence that might get their attention.”
Roach said he will compile all the ideas into a presentation, which he will bring before the Orange County School Board at its regularly scheduled meeting at 5:30 p.m. May 27. School Board rules permit only those who passed the measure to bring it back for consideration, but Roach said he plans to ask one of the four members to do that. The four -- Joie Cadle, Anne Geiger, Kat Gordon and Daryl Flynn -- have indicated that they will not revisit the issue.
Liz Harper, whose daughter attends Southwest Middle in Orlando, questioned why Roach didn´t take cost-savings ideas to the board before the vote.
“I am disgusted we´re here tonight,” Harper said.
School Board members said the schedule change will save about $6 million this year, and about $2 million each year afterward. The district´s transportation officials think switching the schedules will streamline bus routes and permit them to put 37 fewer buses on the roads.
Faced with steep funding cuts by the state, Orange County cut $32 million from its $1.5 billion budget this year and expects to slice a total of $70 million by the end of next year. Schools already have cut their budgets by 6 percent, and departments by 7 percent. Teachers and support staff have been laid off and programs have been cut.
The schedule swap has been one of the most controversial changes. Angry parents have organized letter-writing campaigns, online-petition drives and a demonstration at school-district headquarters in Orlando.
Parents said other ideas could be considered instead of making the schedule swap. Along with using contingency money and charging for AP tests, their ideas included:
*Ending 14 expensive bus routes mandated by the state.
*Replacing large buses with minivans or smaller vehicles.
*Revising outdated busing routes.
*Ending all middle-school athletics.
*Closing satellite schools and alternative programs.
*Consolidating or eliminating clerical, department head or administrative positions.
Meanwhile Lake County on Monday debated similar proposals, including combining some routes, moving at least one middle school to a later start time and putting all secondary students on the same schedules and routes. The board there will review the issue in June.
The changes would not happen for another year.
“It appears to be a little too ambitious for this coming school year,” Lake School Board Chairman Larry Metz said at Monday´s workshop.
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