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Sometimes talking gets in the way of learning

Nature has given us two ears but only one mouth.

Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield Disraeli

Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools talk because they have to say something.

Plato

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Lots of smart people

Some members of the Hillsborough County School Board should have been blushing when they made news not for brilliant budget moves or smart educational decisions, but for jetting off on the taxpayer dime.

In the past four years, as the Times' Letitia Stein has reported, board members managed to spend $150,000 on work-related jaunts.

And not always to sober-sounding places where you might expect educators to take up weighty issues such as creationism or charter schools — Schenectady, maybe, or Boise — but hot vacation spots such as Alaska and San Fran. Woo hoo!

First-term newbie board member Susan Valdes had by far the most frequent flyer miles, figuratively speaking, having spent a whopping $50,322. (For the record, longtime board member Carol Kurdell was the most frugal at $7,600.)

But, hey, is it Valdes' fault the district was getting an award they happened to be handing out in Vegas, baby?

Now this headline-making disclosure could have been explained, changed and contained, assuming members of this particular board had the remotest capacity for containing themselves.

Valdes, who had a decent I'm-new-around-here-and-was-trying-to-learn-all-I-can defense, topped with a big dollop of And-I-promise-I've-learned-my-lesson-and-won't-do-this-again, also had to blame board Chairwoman Jennifer Faliero, who requested the information, for politicizing the issue.

Valdes also called it a setup — as if that five-figure amount wasn't enough to raise the temperature, regardless of who lit the match.

And Valdes didn't exactly make herself oodles of new friends by saying in news reports that she was the hardest-working board member.

"She needs to get over herself," sniffed Candy Olson, a veteran board member.

Can you stand it? All that talking, all those headlines, with no actual School Board business getting done?

At least one truth was spoken in all of this, by Valdes herself, when she observed at one point: "We're an overage bunch of high school kids."

To their credit, board members did manage to be civil, even polite, this week when they agreed on guidelines to regulate their own travel.

Lesson learned? It's election season. We shall see.

And lest you think they are alone, look across town, where the Tampa City Council was outraged about another school-related issue: a historic 1913 school that has fallen into disrepair. The building, sold off by the School Board, partly collapsed last week, a once-glorious building now in ruins.

After one council member observed that the school system has billions but couldn't manage to keep the old place boarded up, another could not resist taking a poke.

"They spent it on travel," threw in council member Joseph Caetano — notably a newbie himself.

Careful there. You never know when those gratuitous if clever-sounding quips might come back to bite you on your own political backside.

Sometimes talking gets in the way of learning 08/01/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 4, 2008 4:22pm]
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