Another fine mess

For the second time in seven months, the Orlando City Council voted May 7 to relocate a controversial Parramore neighborhood charter school sidetracked by a number of governmental misfires and questions about who the school is being built for.

The council voted 5-2 to negotiate a lease for a West Livingston Street parking lot that might become a permanent site for the Nap Ford Community School, the first proposed school for the blighted Parramore neighborhood in 20 years.

"I don't know why we didn't go to the parking lot before," said the school's most vocal proponent, District 5 Commissioner Daisy Lynum.

City officials said they were forced to the new location because their first choice, the John H. Jackson Center, would not be available in time for the beginning of the next school year. Asked why they couldn't be ready, several city officials appeared confused and failed to offer an answer.

The city was up against an impossible timetable at the Jackson Center because it was obligated by federal and state contracts to keep the rec center open for public use. In October, commissioners voted to allow the privately run school use of the center without checking to see if the contracts existed. The city has since applied for waivers to the contracts.

Only two citizens in favor of the school, a banker and a developer, showed up to speak on the issue during the council's most recent discussion. Both had ties to city government through subsidies or other governmental perks.

Five people spoke in opposition, leading some to ask why more parents have failed to endorse the school.

"This should be a community-driven project," said Doug Guetzloe, a radio talk-show host who represents an anti-tax group. "This should not be a Mayor Hood or Daisy Lynum-driven project."

Several commissioners balked at the $1 million price tag for the new location. Others complained that city staff was asking for their approval without knowing if the parking lot poses environmental hazards or whether it will be a permanent or temporary site. Commissioner Vicki Vargo argued that the city should not settle for a sub-par school, one that would have the name of a late city commissioner attached to it. "This does not do honor to what Nap Ford wanted for the community," said Vargo, who voted against the new location.

Amid hisses of dissent, Lynum blamed a number of her constituents for the problems the project has encountered. She again hinted that racism might be behind their opposition to opening the school in a mostly black neighborhood, whose kids now are bused to several schools outside of the area.

"I feel like I'm in a third-world country," she said.

"I'd say she needs to take courses on how to become more politically astute," said one of those opponents, David van Gelder.

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