Thursday, June 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Hillsborough schools should refocus spending on priorities

The Hillsborough County School District is cutting costs for the second straight year in response to a financial crisis, and the results so far are a mixed bag. While the district has put a new spotlight on spending, it also has moved around pieces on the game board rather than seriously confronting the extent of its bureaucracy, its culture of business as usual and the best use of both its academic and physical resources. This is a year to move forward on those broader fronts.

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Marlene Sokol presented a sweeping picture of the hard choices facing administrators and the elected School Board that exposed the gap between what the district may want and what it can afford. While the district has economized in places, it also has struggled with some of the very practices that led to this crisis. Now, 19 months after the first alarms were raised about a drop of $200 million in reserves, the district is trying to draw a line between value and luxury. And it's not entirely clear this effort is being driven by the clarity and urgency it needs.

Case in point: Magnet schools. Magnets were designed to foster racially diverse schools by offering unique programs that drew students from outside the immediate neighborhood. But these schools cost a lot of money, and some of them have not been improving diversity or succeeding academically. At East Tampa's Lockhart Elementary Magnet, the student population is 7 percent white and 75 percent black. Only one time in the last six years has it received anything but a D grade from the state, and that was an F. While some may rave about Lockhart and other magnets, Hillsborough's magnets include more than a dozen schools that are under-enrolled, graded C or lower or unbalanced racially. It's time to refocus on successful magnets and eliminate those that are struggling and not worth the return on investment.

The list goes on. Hillsborough's much-hyped teacher excellence program, funded in part by the Gates Foundation, had a mixed record of success in terms of improving teacher quality. But it certainly taxed district finances in ways that are now becoming all too apparent. Officials have yet to fully address a consultant's finding that Hillsborough has too many teachers. A reorganization plan gave eight administrators more authority and higher salaries. There are plenty of mentors for teachers and principals, but some classrooms are filled for too long with substitutes, and many teachers struggle to find money for basic supplies. The nation's eighth-largest school system still has yet to make the tough decisions about focusing on the right priorities.

The district insists it is being sensitive to student impacts when considering any effort to improve the bottom line. But it needs to be aggressive in examining every aspect of spending. There is good reason to end courtesy busing, but how will the district convince angry parents that money can be better used when it is paying for teachers and administrators it might not need or who are in the wrong positions?

Changes to school boundaries and busing have the potential to save money, even though they will be controversial. But this cost-saving exercise is an opportunity to right-size the school district and to ensure that its programs serve students first, not the bureaucracy. Every penny that's poured back into the classroom will build broader public support for the district and make it a more attractive choice.

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Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney generalís misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect ó prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBIís handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but itís also suppression

The Supreme Courtís ruling last Monday to allow Ohioís purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they havenít voted, Ohioís purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18