Orlando Sentinel http://bit.ly/pXNXR
Threat of school cuts sent Orlando mom into action
Leslie Postal Sentinel Staff Writer
August 2, 2009 Sunday Spotlight
- Birthplace: Atlanta
- Resides: Orlando
- Occupation: Stay-at-home mom, active in PTA and school advisory council at Blankner School, one of the founders of Fundeducationnow.org
- Family: Husband, Keith; sons Nicholas, 9, and Alexander,
As economic news grew more dire and threats to school budgets more alarming, Orlando mother Kathleen Oropeza earlier this year joined a few other parents at Blankner School to fight back. Fundeducationnow.org, her group, sent e-mails, created videos and organized letter-writing campaigns to state lawmakers. Now it is looking to create a statewide umbrella organization for parents, focused on school funding but also educational quality. She spoke with Orlando Sentinel reporter Leslie Postal.
What prompted you to start fighting for better funding for public schools?
The year before they started with the funding cuts, it was a lot, but we somehow made it work. Then last year, I guess it was in February, and the numbers started coming down, and it was just huge . . . $240 million just for our county. It made me realize public education as we know it was really kind of in jeopardy of not being the quality thing it could be.
When did you decide to form your group?
Our principal, Polly Roper at Blankner, gave me a call. She’d been in a meeting with the superintendent. Within days . . . I’d written our first alert. Basically it was a call to action. Now is the time. There is no real group speaking specifically for the children of the state . . . Parents are left out of the discussion completely, and we are the end users of this product . . . I realized it was my responsibility . . . We started on Feb. 6, basically, and it was 24/7 after that.
When the Florida Legislature was in session and working on the budget, what were you doing?
We visited most of the people in the delegation at least one time. We wrote weekly alerts. . . . We asked the parents to write and call, and we know, we had feedback, that it was effective. It evolved through time, quickly. Schools started joining us . . . along the way; these alerts created a very educated group of people. . . . We’ve done many media interviews. . . . Parents have been pretty sleepy up until this crisis.
Are you worried that parents, activated by the threats of budget cuts, will get complacent now?
I think in the short term, people are certainly going to be feeling we don’t have to deal with the crisis right now. I think we’ve worked ourselves into a little box. The stimulus money is running out in 18 months. . . . Funding is not the only answer here. . . . The problem is much more serious. We have to look at changing this conversation to bringing education in Florida up to a standard that allows us to compete globally.
What are your plans for the fall?
With the school year starting, introducing ourselves to a new group of parents and getting them up to speed as to what expect . . . and trying to inspire these parents to be advocates.
Was there a favorite moment?
I got a call from someone . . . on behalf of a legislator. He was upset that we had been blasting his office with calls. We are their bosses. We elected them. I realized that him being upset with us calling was a measure of how quiet we had been. I realized this is exactly what we should be doing.