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Orlando Sentinel

Hispanics Must Take More Heed Of School Issues

By Maria T. Padilla

August 14, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

Shame, shame on Orlando's Hispanic community for not showing up at last week's forum specifically for Hispanics on the proposed sales-tax increase to help Orange County schools.

Despite a mass mailing and other publicity, a grand total of 36 people attended -- including my husband and daughter -- at the school district's Education Leadership Center.

Even most board members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, which sponsored the event, were absent.


Mario García, chamber president, was embarrassed because he had cajoled many public officials to be there.

"They're going to kill me," he said.

Hispanic outreach coordinator Irma Yapor didn't get a chance to hand out the Spanish-language campaign material.

Maybe it was a bad day or a bad hour of the day or an inconvenient venue, but the community passed up the opportunity to question Superintendent Ron Blocker and other officials about the massive maintenance and renovation program the proposed tax would fund.

About $3 billion worth of building, repairs and renovation would take place during the next 13 years if voters approve the half-cent sales-tax increase Sept. 10.

That means you.

Hispanic students are the county's fastest-growing school population. About 50,000 Hispanics in Orange County are under 18, according to the 2000 census. About 38,000 of these are in the school system.

The remaining 12,000 will be at the schoolhouse door in the next few years. Latinos are on the threshold of becoming the largest minority in Orange schools.

This requires that Hispanics pay attention and be informed -- whether they are for or against the tax. It's important to show up at the polls, as well.

Of those present at the forum, many asked good questions. One man asked whether the tax was overly dependent on tourists, who are expected to generate nearly half the projected tax revenue. Blocker replied that the entire region's economy is tourism-dependent. No getting around that.

The best question came from Victoria García, 15, no relation to Mario. Officials squirmed as she asked about the quality of the construction, given the partial collapse of a suspended walkway at Olympia High School, which is barely 2 years old.

Howard Roland, a member of the district's construction oversight committee, said there was "nothing wrong with the quality of the buildings."

That wasn't a satisfactory answer, and it didn't ease the concerns of parents. At least Victoria was able to put the question directly to the honchos.

Democracy at work!

Dick Batchelor, chairman of a campaign called Change 4 Kids, said he'll talk to anybody who asks about the issue. All interested groups should take him at his word. Call him at 407-835-0955.

The campaign is likely to intensify on Spanish-language television and radio as the Sept. 10 election nears.

A Spanish-language Web site already is up and running at Other forums are planned. Take the time to find out about Change 4 Kids.

One way or another, it's going to mean a lot to your child in the next few years.

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