Overcrowding and Legislation Are Obstacles to Orlando Schools

The city of Orlando has a fast growing population and rapid development, creating a situation of overcrowding in the Orlando schools. The facilities are so overcrowded that, by the end of 2006, an estimated 40 percent of Orlando schools students will be taught in portable buildings — and the need is much greater than previously anticipated. With rising construction costs, increasing growth, and new mandates from state and local government, the funding is not keeping pace with the growth and innovative ideas to reduce overcrowding are being sidetracked by new government regulations.

In 2000, the Martinez Doctrine was adopted by Orange County, where the Orlando schools district is located. The doctrine is designed to reduce overcrowding in public schools by denying or awarding zoning and rezoning requests from developers, dependent upon whether the projects are located near an overcrowded school or not. The doctrine was meant to curb residential growth in already dense areas. Though it was never an official law, the county adopted it as a general planning procedure.

For the Orlando schools, the doctrine is a dual-edged sword. Due to the strict regulations, many developers are building elsewhere and the Orlando schools are losing much needed tax revenues; yet the doctrine assists in decreasing the overcrowding in the Orlando schools and makes developers “pay as they go” for growth.

In 2002, voters approved a half-penny sales tax to raise $2 billion to pay for 136 school improvement projects and build 25 new schools across the county. The use of this money for a permanent solution to overcrowding in the Orlando schools was undercut by the voters and lawmakers, who passed the class size amendment. This meant that at least seven portable buildings had to be added immediately to each of the Orlando schools. The district’s vision of eliminating these buildings through facilities renovation and new construction was thwarted.

Then last year, the growth management law was passed, requiring additional schools be built by 2012. The law provides $10 billion in state funds over the next 10 years to ensure new development is concurrent with schools — either a school must already be physically within the area of new projects or plans already in place to build a new school. The law affects the Orlando schools beginning in 2008. It does underscore the Orlando schools position that developers should help pay for the growth they bring to the city; however, as with the Martinez Doctrine, many developers are building elsewhere and funding from tax revenues are being lost.

The Metro Orlando Home Builders Association has developed the School Express Program with the Orlando schools, making fast track construction of schools part of their development plans. The program has drawn support from both local developers and builders, as well as the Orlando schools, who are open to any help, support or suggestions to allow them to implement their overcrowding reduction strategies.

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