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Keep focus on education not athletics

Athletics 1, Academics 0 | July 10, editorial graphic

Universities should keep the focus on education Your editorial and the quote from a former Oklahoma University president about "wanting a university the football team could be proud of" made my day. I spent 22 years teaching at Harvard and Johns Hopkins, two institutions that produce great education and research because their educational philosophies keep the spotlight on the fundamentals of institutions of higher education.

Supporting athletic businesses with seven-digit salaries and recruiting practices worthy of the New England Patriots sends the wrong message about education to students and faculty alike. Perhaps our Florida university and legislative leaders should swap jobs for a year with great leaders of athletic businesses like the Yankees or Patriots. The latter succeed because they focus 150 percent of their efforts on achieving the primary goals of their organizations. As leaders of universities, these folks would put the same emphasis on education.

James L. Fozard, Palm Harbor

Statistics lead astray

You can make statistics dance on their heads, spin like tops, say pretty much anything you want; few are better at it than the Times. Annual revenue per student is down at every state school, not just the University of Florida. Athletic department revenue is up at every state school, not just UF. But to suggest a correlation between the two spending areas is absurd.

Per-student spending is down due to almost nothing except our grossly inept Legislature. Too many of those clowns prefer such issues as how low teenagers wear their pants, what bumper ornaments people put on their trucks or how to interject religion into the teaching of biology.

As for the rise in athletic department spending, a huge portion of that is due to spending on women's athletics; it was practically nonexistent in 1990 and today it's in the millions. But the Times can't be bothered with those facts.

At least UF's entire athletic budget comes from revenue generated by the department, not from general "school funds." And no state school can even approach the amount of money diverted from the athletic department to the general fund as UF has.

David Alfonso, Largo School CEOs? Leaders unsure | July 7, story

Let Pinellas be a model

Recent articles concerning the push by the Pinellas Education Foundation for Pinellas County schools to emulate the Okaloosa County model are producing healthy debate regarding the future direction of our schools.

The opportunity and the challenge for the school district should not be to emulate Okaloosa, or any other district, but rather to build upon our successes, utilize our talented and capable staff, seek input from both within and outside the education community and then build a Pinellas County schools model that other districts will be talking about and trying to emulate.

Pinellas County has made great strides in recent years, especially in career education. However, Pinellas also has a history of purchasing expensive, scripted programs and forcing those programs into use in every school. Ask any veteran teacher and they will rattle off a list of acronyms of the many programs they have endured over the years. If purchasing programs or spending more at the district level was the solution, we would not be having the current discussions concerning school improvement. Perhaps placing more, not all, of the resources, and more of the decisionmaking at the school level would allow individual schools to decide the best way to meet the needs of their students. Pinellas is not Okaloosa, but in the same respect Dixie Hollins High is not Palm Harbor High. The needs are different and the solutions are different.

Central administration serves a vital function and provides consistency of purpose and management of areas no principal desires or has the time to take on. Any plan that proposes placing those functions onto school-based personnel is not practical. The school district owes it to the students and the taxpayers to take a serious look at what direction we are ready to commit our resources and our energy toward to make Pinellas County schools the next model for the state.

Max Loden, St. Petersburg

Schools copy business model | June 29, story

A bad idea

I'm a national board certified teacher, and I think the recent push for school-based management is a bad idea. It seems like our district is in a constant cycle of reform: Every couple of years, they decide to implement some new management strategy that is supposed to fix all of our problems. This constant flip-flopping means that strategies never have a real opportunity to become part of the school's organizational culture before they are abandoned for the next new strategy. As a consequence, teachers are less willing to "buy in" to new strategies: They know that whatever it is, the new management method won't be around for long, so why bother with it?

While school-based management might allow individual schools to respond better to the needs of their communities, it could also mean that the quality of services would vary widely from school to school. This seems to go against the idea that all students deserve equal access to education. Another problem is that most teachers and principals don't have business degrees, so a switch to school-based management would require an enormous investment of time and resources in training to properly implement it.

While Okaloosa initially experienced some success, it is unclear if those gains were a result of the switch to school-based management or the product of other reforms.

I don't know the answer to increasing student achievement, because there isn't one: It is a complex issue with many facets, and there is no "one" solution that will adequately address all of them. But I do know that changing courses (yet again) to school-based management is a bad idea.

Aaron Elkins, Dunedin

Throw some light on power rate hike | July 11, editorial

Make us real investors

I agree with your editorial on the power rate hike secrecy, but I believe it misses the main issue. Why should the public assume the high costs and construction risks for a facility that will be owned by Progress Energy, a for-profit business? Why shouldn't Progress do that without a subsidy by us?

The editorial says "the public is a principal initial investor." But we are not investors, we are customers. We have no right to dividends and no ownership in the enterprise. We should not have to pay for the plant.

Here's a thought: If we have to contribute money up front, how about applying that money to buying shares in the company and distributing those to us payers, who would now be investors?

Or why can't Progress finance the project the old-fashioned way — by floating a bond issue or issuing new stock in the company?

John Will, St. Petersburg

Pleasures of the page | July 10, Bill Maxwell column

Paper's a plus

Indeed, as Bill Maxwell stated in his column, pleasure is the key to reading. And I fully concur with author Philip Pullman's statement as well: "Pleasure is not a frivolous extra, but the very heart and essence of what reading is all about."

This, in a nutshell, is reason enough to keep our newspapers in print. Because I'm a news junkie, it's always a treat for me to sit down and read the Times, to learn about what's going on in the world.

JoAnn Lee Frank, Clearwater

3 Times executives to retire | July 8, story

Happy trails

Editor of editorials Phil Gailey rightly gives credit for the Times editorial success to the board members who "labor mostly in anonymity" and lists among his accomplishments, the hiring of Robyn Blumner and Bill Maxwell. Kudos to him for that.

I wish Phil Gailey the best in retirement, including perhaps a dripping chin while munching a Georgia peach on his aunt's porch in Homer, Ga. I applaud and for the most part agree with his political writings, but it is his wistful recollection of simpler times that takes us all back home.

He deserves the best of times.

Norm Bungard, St. Petersburg

Keep focus on education not athletics 07/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 14, 2008 7:29pm]
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