Sunday, January 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Florida education leadership in disarray

Tony Bennett made the right decision by resigning Thursday as Florida's education commissioner. His credibility was irreparably damaged by the revelation this week that as head of Indiana's public schools he intentionally improved the letter grade of an Indianapolis charter school founded by a major Republican donor. The controversy likely will to continue to unfold, and the Florida education commissioner should be focused on Florida rather than on defending his reputation in his home state.

The result of Bennett's abrupt departure is more turmoil for Florida's education system. The Department of Education again lacks a permanent leader, and several top department jobs were filled with Bennett's allies from Indiana. The state testing system is discredited and lacks support among school superintendents, teachers and parents. Republican legislative leaders want Florida to pull out of a national consortium developing assessments for the coming Common Core State Standards, and other conservatives want the state to drop plans to follow those national standards. Bennett predicted Florida will stick with Common Core — and it should, but the pressure on Republicans from their conservative base is growing.

Ultimately, Gov. Rick Scott is responsible for the lack of trust in the direction of public education in Florida. He campaigned as though teachers and public schools were the enemy, and he signed state budgets into law that slashed spending on public education. Then he pushed to restore more than $1 billion in spending and give teacher raises this year as his job approval ratings continued to plummet. The state of public education in Florida will be a major issue in next year's governor's race, and former Gov. Jeb Bush still has more influence over the Legislature and the Board of Education than Scott on that subject.

Scott has had extraordinarily high turnover among agency heads during his first term, and no seat has been hotter than education commissioner. The governor could not have foreseen the scandal over Bennett's manipulation of school grades in Indiana. But selecting a national political figure who just lost an election in his home state was sure to lead to political controversy at some point. Bennett continued to vigorously defend himself at a news conference Thursday, complaining about "malicious, unfounded reports" from Indiana and sounding very much like an embattled politician. Florida's appointed education commissioner should be focused on policy, not politics.

The Board of Education will meet today to appoint another interim commissioner. With roughly 15 months until the 2014 general election, it's unlikely a national search for a new education commissioner will produce stellar candidates. The state has cycled through three permanent commissioners and two interims since Scott took office in January 2011, so an appointment from inside Florida government might be best to stabilize the situation for now and preserve the commitment to Common Core State Standards. If Scott and the Board of Education persuade someone to take the job and move to Tallahassee, here's some free advice:

Rent, don't buy.

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Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18