An Orlando lawyer decides to become part of the solution, which can lead to problems.
Kathleen Skambis is tenacious in her focus on Orange County Public Schools, but don’t call her an activist. “That’s more radical than I am,” the Orlando lawyer says.
She has been outspoken about school issues for the past few years, most recently as a member of Superintendent Ronald Blocker’s Budget Study Committee, formed to seek ways to save money in the face of drastic funding cuts imposed by the state.
The Orlando resident was frustrated by the process. “Even if you eliminate all of the inefficiencies and all of the fluff at the local level,” says Skambis, “you’d still not have anywhere close to enough cuts to make up for the money the state is cutting.”
Blocker concurs. “That’s why it is very frustrating for us. It’s very scary when you realize you can’t come up with enough cuts to balance the budget. Then there’s only one place left to cut, and that’s teachers and staff.”
While Skambis and Blocker share some common ground on the budget dilemma, they have lined up on opposing sides in the past. Skambis, 52, has challenged the district on its reconstruction plans for Edgewater High School and fought against the original schedule flip. And she says the district, under Blocker, doesn’t listen to community input.
Blocker acknowledges her opinion but disagrees. “Ms. Skambis is an involved citizen and very passionate about her beliefs,” he says. “Sometimes if you don’t agree with whatever they believe, then people say you don’t listen. We do engage the community.”
Skambis’ involvement began a few years back when she led the Edgewater High School Community Reconstruction Task Force. With two children from a previous marriage and two stepchildren zoned for Edgewater, she had a vested interest in the school’s future. The task force met with district officials for a year and a half.
“The amount of hours and energy Kathleen spent on that committee was mind-boggling,” says real estate agent David E. Rose, a task force member and president of the College Park Neighborhood Association.
The experience, however, only hardened Skambis’ resolve to challenge the school board and Blocker.
When the school board backed Blocker’s plan to flip middle school and high school start times last summer, Skambis joined Orange County CORE (Community Organized to Rescue Education), a grassroots group that opposed the flip. “The schedule flip was God’s gift to community activism,” Skambis says. In early December, the school board, which included three new members who ran on the promise to reverse the flip, reinstated the old start times beginning next school year.
Education is a clear passion in Skambis’ life. The community must get involved, she says, in order to solve the funding problems. “CORE had tremendous momentum, and I’m on the boat. I’m not ready to stop fighting yet.”