On June 21 we were pleased to read a front-page story titled Pinellas schools revamp sought, and for the last couple of weeks, this issue has dominated your coverage of Pinellas County schools. Since the longest-serving School Board member took office 18 years ago, more students have dropped out of Pinellas County schools than could be seated in Raymond James Stadium. Why has it taken this long for anyone to notice, and why are "business leaders" taking it on the chin for bringing it to the School Board's attention and suggesting solutions?
The issue should not be that business leaders have ventured into the hallowed halls of academia to offer solutions to educators. The issue is that our school community is in crisis and we have lost an entire generation of our children to low-paying jobs, drugs, crime, homelessness and despair.
We have watched countless Pinellas County School Board meetings where little or no mention is made of students. Debate rages over the minutiae of school administration, policies and procedures — subjects better handled by our superintendent and principals. As parents and taxpayers, we are appalled at how little attention is paid to the very reason our schools exist: our children.
Much has been made of the success of the Okaloosa County schools' plan to create choice academies and restructure their administration. Our School Board and many of our administrators and community leaders have visited their schools and seen their success story. We argue that now it is our turn and our time to act. We can waste time and energy arguing about how the issue was raised and whether or not the Okaloosa County plan is the best, or we can all agree that it's time to come up with our own plan and act on it.
We have seen the quotes from some admin-istrators and have read the blogs. We understand the concerns that a shift from a centralized administration toward a more school-based management system will be difficult and many of our current administrators are not prepared to take on the task. Principals and administrators will have to learn a new way of doing business, and we applaud the interim superintendent, Dr. Julie Janssen, for taking the first steps to begin the training process.
On behalf of the Executive Committee of the Pinellas Education Foundation, we call upon our School Board and this community to recognize that we cannot waste the futures of any more of our children on a public education system that is broken. We must all put our pride aside, accept our share of the responsibility and become part of the solution.
Irwin Novack, chairman; Gus A. Stavros, chairman emeritus; Bob McIntyre, immediate past chairman; and Gerry Hogan, past chairman; Pinellas Education Foundation, Largo
Secrecy ill serves the public
Was it conscious irony, satirical impulse or tone-deafness that put the July 15 lead editorial Pierce the shroud of executive secrecy opposite St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker's apologia for his own version of state secrecy (Jobs plan is a good deal for city)?
Set aside the mayor's and City Council's mixed record in exchanging public funds for promises to keep jobs in town. Presidential claims of absolute and blanket immunity from legislative and public scrutiny are no more supportable than the mayor's "Trust me, it's all legal and I know what's best for you" on the Jabil gratuity.
The mayor is okay with shelling out millions in what he slipped in, described as "costs required by the city." "Reasonable" or not, the money is from the taxpayers. And whom are we to believe when it comes to what the council knew or was told, let alone the "reasonableness" of denying the public any notice or knowledge of these deals?
True, we have a representative form of government. But that doesn't extend carte blanche to government executives to bushwah the Legislature and public with endless claims of "confidentiality" and "executive privilege."
Jon McPhee, St. Petersburg
Public shut out again | July 8, editorial
County proceeds with care
On July 1, the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners — aiming to help jump-start the local economy through affordable housing opportunities, creation of jobs and adding to our tax base — voted to proceed with the extensive due diligence and development review process necessary to further investigate the feasibility of the plan to create an entirely new planned community: Villages at Gateway Fields. This ambitious project hopes to remake Pinellas County's historic landfill, Toytown, into a mixed-use village allowing residents to live, work, play and shop within a livable community designed to encourage walking, biking and mass transit.
It is disturbing to see the St. Petersburg Times editorial board condemn the county commission for requiring a due-diligence process that will be performed during the next year that will address all the issues relative to use and safety. It should also be noted that there will not be a closing or transfer of property until all development approvals are in place and the buyer has accepted landfill liability and maintenance responsibility.
And, yes, appropriate public input will be invited throughout this multiyear journey.
Robert B. Stewart, chairman, Pinellas County Commission, Clearwater
Fuel tab rises as police commute | July 16
School before fuel
How is it that everywhere you look budgets are being cut and yet Tampa police get to take home their work cars at taxpayers' expense? It saddens me to read that when the policy was changed and officers' cars were sold in 1988, the police morale was terrible and because of this, Mayor Pam Iorio is reluctant to cut back on the gas tab.
Why do these people choose to be a part of the police force? "The Mission of the Tampa Police Department is to reduce crime and enhance the quality of life through a cooperative partnership with citizens." Where does it include "to use taxpayers' money to drive to and from work"?
Our education system is suffering every day from budget cuts. Where is the relief for the teachers? Where are their take-home cars? Where are their school supplies, books and outstanding pay? Teachers are saving lives every day and keeping crimes off the street by providing the best quality of education possible with the little that they have. Instead of budgeting an extra $800,000 for the gas tab, why not use that money to benefit our future society with education?
Natashia A. Vasquez, Tampa
In school, if you use it, you lose it | July 16
Cell phones not appropriate
No one should be outraged that the Hillsborough County School Board banned the use of cell phones in school. In addition to providing a simple means of cheating, the social nature of cell phone usage distracts students who should be learning. School is for learning, not for socializing.
Andrew Szarejko, Palm Harbor