Thursday, December 14, 2017
Editorials

School candidates need to answer tough questions

Much is at stake today as the Pinellas County School Board conducts public interviews of three finalists for superintendent. Pinellas schools, long a source of community pride, are struggling and hungry for a strong long-term leader. The candidates are not particularly impressive on paper, and board members should question them closely to determine if any of them measures up or if the search process should start over. This is a decision far too important to the county's future to settle for less than excellence.

If nothing else, the three candidates — Mike Grego, Constance "Connie" Jones and Christian "Chris" Cutter — haven't shied away from seeking what will be one tough job, even after the steadying hand of superintendent John Stewart. He is a retired educator drafted after last year's firing of Julie Janssen, whose chaotic leadership only contributed to the district's fading luster. The new superintendent will assume control amid significant changes mandated by the Legislature, including a new teacher merit pay plan and end-of-course tests in 2013-14. There's growing public anger over the use of standardized tests as well as increasing demands for more fundamental schools in the district.

The School Board itself could look significantly different after the November election. Two incumbents, Janet Clark and Glen Gilzean, each face a runoff. But today, board members should ask the candidates how they would improve student achievement, cope with chronic funding cuts, and manage the county's top employer. Specifically:

• Pinellas is losing ground academically compared with other large districts and is doing a worse job closing the achievement gap between white and minority students. How would a new superintendent raise student achievement?

• Declining enrollment means the district is getting a smaller share of the diminished money from Tallahassee. What would they anticipate cutting or changing to save money?

• Pinellas school employees have been whipsawed by constant cuts and even less financial reward. Teachers find their work more prescribed than ever by lawmakers in Tallahassee. How would they reinvigorate the workforce, attract the best teachers and keep student achievement at the fore?

• How is their experience relevant? Grego left the superintendent's job in Osceola County after clashes with the board. Jones, a chief academic officer in Lee County schools, was passed over for the superintendent's job there. Why should Pinellas take a gamble on either? Cutter should explain how his assistant superintendent experience in a smaller and less diverse Colorado district and his role in trying to implement private school vouchers translates into running a 101,000-student district here.

The School Board can't afford to get this decision wrong. The first step toward getting it right is a vigorous and thorough vetting of these three candidates.

Comments

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17

Another voice: Privacy in the internet age

How much information about you is on your cellphone? Likely the most intimate details of your life: photographs, internet searches, text and email conversations with friends and colleagues. And though you might not know it, your phone is constantly c...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Confronted with documentation of sanctioned brutality and sexual abuse in Florida’s juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration was defensive and obtuse. So it’s welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over state’s rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week won’t make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, it’s obvious that Jeff Vinik’s plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17