Rod Olsen is an Apopka resident and local activist that often speaks before the City Council and the Rock Springs Homeowners Association. He is a former RSR HOA President and a moderator of mayoral and city commission debates over the last couple of election cycles.
But his passion is clearly schools.
Olsen recently emailed The Apopka Voice, as well as members of the Apopka City Council and the District 7 Orange County Public School Board Member Melissa Byrd (who represents Apopka schools), about a photo depicting a crowded hallway at Apopka High School.
"This picture (above) is from Apopka High School between classes this (Tuesday) morning," Olsen said.
"This is SO WRONG in so many ways. Safety, quality of life, security, and did I say SAFETY?
Why is Apopka High School 800 over capacity and Wekiva High School 650 under?
Why is OCPS the most over-capacity school district in the state?
Why must you add the three largest Florida school districts together to barely exceed Orange County Public Schools in portable utilization?
Portables are not as SAFE and cost more to operate than brick-and-mortar schools. Let us follow the money with portables. Someone is winning, and it isn’t our Children, Teachers, or Taxpayers.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It is past time that we change our strategy and direction. We are better than this.
We must come together with a coordinated, consistent, UNITED, and UNRELENTING effort to make the changes in Tallahassee to address our overcapacity.
When can we set a meeting, get our heads together, and begin a dialogue to put together a coordinated, sustained effort to improve the lives of our Students, Teachers, and Taxpayers?"
Olsen later expanded his concerns in a text to The Apopka Voice:
"I am upset as everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else, and ultimately it apparently is Tallahassee. There has been no coordinated effort," Olsen said. "City, County governments, and citizens look to OCPS to carry the ball so there is no joint effort. The fact is Orange County is the fastest growing county in FL & Tallahassee won’t fund schools until a new school can be full! Wolf Lake Elementary & Middle opened 15 years ago with 42 portables & the only reason some may be moving out of inventory is that Kelly Park opened. With all the homes being built, Kelly Park will fill and most likely put the 12 portables that are on the sight plan in addition to refilling the Wolf Lake campus."
Later in the thread, Byrd responded directly to Olsen's comments.
It is not just an OCPS matter. This matter requires OC Mayor, OC Commissioners, Apopka Mayor, Other Orange County Mayors, OCPS, and interested Citizens to be on one page and work this "opportunity" together.
The way we are approving new housing with everyone rubber stamping in line is business as usual. If the portables are removed (in talking with Lauren, I know that schools don't want to lose the portables as they can be used for clubs and other school needs), they will reappear based on our growth.
The problem with portables is they are not as safe as brick and mortar, and they cost more to operate. Students and Teachers are evacuated into the brick-and-mortar school "Buddy" classrooms during weather events because portables are not as safe as brick and mortar. Concentrating even more Children into a confined space exposes them to a greater possibility of harm.
Save a disaster, where portables may be needed for a brief time until the damaged school is viable for occupancy. Portables are the result of poor planning.
The fact that at this time we are reducing the number of portables is wonderful. Without a concerted effort and specific timelines established, results reviewed regularly, portables will continue to be a crutch. Without written plans with specific timeline goals for the reduction of and the eventual elimination of portables, it will be business as usual.
The 4,000 number I used for AHS was discussed as the anticipated school opening headcount discussion I was privy to. OCPS's last enrollment summary is from May. It is my understanding that the census is conducted daily, and this information should be updated on the OCPS site daily. From what you are saying, the current enrollment at AHS is only 3,400 at this time. They must all be on that stairwell!
When we have the updated enrollment summary numbers and can compare them to other school districts, we will then have the statistics we need to make a convincing case to Tallahassee for a change in how Orange County is treated related to school funding. We must not and cannot continue the status quo.
If you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you always got. In our case, continued overcrowding and continued use of portables."
Lauren Roth, the Assistant PR Director for OCPS, provided revised statistics about portables and explained the lengths they are going to in order to limit their use.
"Today, OCPS has 1,328 classroom portables in place districtwide. Of those, approximately 736 are no longer in use. By the end of this school year, those portables will either be removed or will be on site but vacant. We are also adding approximately 40 portables districtwide. So in total, there will be about 552 portables in use districtwide.
So, to answer your original question, there will be approximately 552 classroom portables in use this year.
"...This has been a massive effort on the part of OCPS to get these numbers down, and Facilities is very proud of this progress. I also wanted to share... that the student count at Wolf Lake MS is under capacity this year with the opening of the Kelly Park School."