Changes begin at Hopkins | March 10, story
We need to restore discipline in schools
Hurrah for Janet Clark! Finally, a member of the Pinellas County School Board is not afraid to verbalize the truth!
Of course the troublemaking students are hoodlums. They cause fights, they push over employees and cuss them out, they blatantly disrespect all rules and standards of conduct. What else would you call them?
As a former teacher of 37 years, I think it's about time we come clean with what is really happening in some schools as far as discipline. We should quit bending over for groups like the Uhurus and spineless board members. Give principals the authority to really cleanse their schools of these troublemakers and provide an environment of real learning. Quit passing the buck.
I applaud Janet Clark for standing up for all parents, administrators, students and teachers who want these "hoodlums" identified and sent to an institution that can really meet their needs. It's way overdue.
Kip Mitchell, St. Petersburg
Our School Board chairwoman, Janet Clark, was wrong to characterize a group of troubled disruptive middle school students as "hoodlums." I don't think that it's appropriate for any School Board employee to characterize a group of students so negatively. It is inappropriate but not racist.
Most important is what should be done to help these youth. The board needs to provide appropriate discipline, support and alternative educational settings for our most chronically misbehaving students. Transferring the most disruptive will provide a safer and better learning environment for the other students as well.
Linda Lerner, member, Pinellas County School Board
A senseless discussion
According to my Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, a hoodlum is "1. THUG: esp: one who commits acts of violence, 2. a young ruffian."
As a retired first-grade teacher from the Pinellas County School System, I can assure you I have certainly had my share of "hoodlums." This entire discussion is insane.
Melinda Galaher, St. Pete Beach
Transfers are no panacea
Many writers have expressed the opinion that sending disruptive students to alternative schools would "solve" the problems at John Hopkins. They would like to see more students removed and to expedite the process. Moving students to alternative schools is not, however, a solution in and of itself. Students in alternative schools are entitled to an education. They are still under the care of teachers and in class with other students. They remain, morally and economically, "our" students.
To provide safety and education in a school where all of the students have behavior problems requires more staff, more care, more money. Alternative schools are a valuable and necessary resource for some students, but using alternative schools as a panacea is ineffective and expensive. Careful consideration each time a student is transferred to an alternative school is good fiscal and educational sense.
Elizabeth Margareta Griffith, Tampa
Do something useful
School Board chairwoman Janet Clark was on target in calling the thugs at John Hopkins Middle School "hoodlums." There was no suggestion of the race of the troublemakers until the Uhurus injected it into the conversation.
If the Uhurus were really concerned for the "kids of the African community," they would be more concerned that they were taught right from wrong. Protesting at the school and blaming everyone else only tells the offenders that it is all right to cause trouble and act like a hoodlum.
If they truly cared, they would put this pressure on the parents of these kids to raise their children to be productive citizens instead of future felons.
Ed Morris, St. Petersburg
Instead of protesting outside John Hopkins Middle School with chants of who is to blame for the problems with unruly students, perhaps Chimurenga Waller and the Uhurus could use this time to mentor, support and guide those unruly students.
Nanette Standfast, St. Petersburg
Creating harmony, hope
I thought about the front-page article (School suffers rising chaos, March 6) while listening to the students at the Pinellas Youth Symphony's concert at St. Petersburg College last Saturday. I watched and listened to students from every race and creed enthusiastically share their passion for music while delighting a capacity audience.
It was such a stark contrast to the events at John Hopkins and the experiences students there must share. In a society in which learning to pass tests reigns supreme, programs in the arts are easily cut for lack of funding, and we wonder why we see behaviors escalate in our schools.
We need only look at the work of Jose Antonio Abreu in Venezuela to see how the arts can transform a society by bridging the gap between rich and poor while increasing intellectual and emotional capacities in children. From an original group of 11 impoverished children Abreu built the more than 300,000 student El Sistema, a nationwide organization of more than 100 youth orchestras made up of students from poor and middle-class neighborhoods. As Abreu states: "It is evident that music has to be recognized as an element of socialization, as an agent of social development in the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values: solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion."
Perhaps it is time to implement a proactive approach to our societal dilemmas by providing all our children a means for a better way.
Nancy Ellington, Kenneth City
Doors opening to big money | March 10, story
Lawmakers reveal their true priorities
Amazing. Our tax structure is a mess, not to mention insurance, the economy, and the state budget is facing a deficit! But this Legislature managed to create a bill that has been "racing" through the Legislature in order to allow lawmakers to bring back "leadership funds"!
This, my fellow citizens, must be a priority because it benefits — who? There is a reason these funds were outlawed in 1989, although they never really disappeared.
I would like this Legislature to concentrate on the people's business, not theirs. There is an arrogance in Tallahassee in which they believe the people of this state are either keenly interested in the welfare of the Legislature, or stupid.
When I read the paper, or current bills being considered, I want to know that lawmakers are up there in Tallahassee trying to resolve the many issues this state faces, working on my behalf, not to better line their pockets. It's amazing what can get done quickly when you have a stake in the game.
Diane M. Drake, Tampa
The Suncoast barely made the bottom of the list of top retirement destinations nationwide. This is almost surreal. Hyperinflated property taxes have killed the golden goose. The folks from elsewhere who used to come here in the twilight of their lives to relax and spend are going anywhere but here.
I remember when Florida used to be almost recession-proof because of the ceaseless influx. Now, real estate is dead and every empty house or condo is a drag on our economy not to mention our property values.
Two things need to happen: Bank-owned properties sitting idle in perpetuity should get no tax breaks, and an expanded homestead exemption for seasonal residences or vacation homes (those not used as rental property) should be established.
Let's get rid of the dead wood in the market by penalizing banks for propagating market stagnation with their foreclosure mausoleums three to a block and entice out-of-state residents back with a "seasonal home exemption."
We should also encourage Floridians who are able to splurge on a vacation home to do so right here instead of in the Carolinas or the Bahamas with a "vacation home exemption." Let's prime the pump on Florida real estate and get things moving again.
Dwayne Keith, Valrico
Condos deflect big fees to banks March 8, story
Owners need relief
Something has to be done. The fabric of the community is going to rot ever more quickly unless condominium associations are provided some avenue to collect maintenance fees from nonpayers.
Banks play games to keep the losses off their books for months and even years; scofflaws don't pay the assessments while the places deteriorate before everyone's eyes. Some will rent out their properties and still refuse to pay their agreed-upon fees. Don't count on a steady return of Canadians or other snowbirds to populate these buildings next winter. They can see all too well that the places are going to go downhill unless something happens fast.
Surely our creative state legislators can craft some relief that works for their constituents and not just their paying customers — the banks. I would urge all affected owners to contact their legislators immediately to seek relief.
Mike Judd, Dunedin
Should Dozier be shut down? | March 9, story
School should be closed
This almost seems like a rhetorical question. After all these years of failure, this school should be bulldozed. Merely keeping this school for historical reasons while boys have continued to be abused is not an adequate reason to keep it open.
From a humanitarian viewpoint, it has been said that it is easier to mentor a boy than to mend a man. Abusive behavior by staff personnel has and will continue to cause problems.
Finally looking at it from a strictly budget perspective, we are spending about $100,000 a year on these boys, far more than the cost of education at a private school.
As for employees losing their jobs, they can still be retained provided that they provide constructive solutions to the problem. In fact some of them could be used in crime-prevention programs that may prevent more boys from going to Dozier or any other reform school in the first place.
Carl E. Graham, Largo
Antipanhandling rules draw critics March 6, story
As the Legislature gets under way, some estimates indicate that funding for mental health and substance abuse may be cut by as much as one-third. Without treatment or services, those now barely hanging on will drop off the social services radar. This will surely result in increases in the homeless population from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.
National statistics indicate that, of the homeless population, anywhere from 15 to 50 percent have serious mental problems, depending on the locale, with metropolitan areas being the higher end.
Couple the impending cuts with communities toughening up on panhandlers (a.k.a. homeless persons), and we are headed for a perfect storm. Reduced services will drive people to the streets and under the bridges, while the get-tough policies will drive them to jail.
Although this approach may temporarily reduce homelessness, it will be at the expense of human rights and the funds in the criminal justice system. People with mental illness are significantly more expensive to house and treat when in jail or prison than those receiving services in the community.
These crackdowns on funding and people are short-term solutions at best. The homeless/mental health issue is so important it cannot wait 10 years for an answer. Solutions to problems are often arrived at just prior to the deadline. Perhaps we could have a five-year plan or even a three-year one.
Donald Turnbaugh, president, National Alliance on Mental Illness Pinellas County
Censured doctors on drugmaker payrolls March 1, story
Offering quality care
I have practiced medicine in St. Petersburg for more than 19 years and have a busy office practice and hospital-based infectious disease consultation service. I have had the privilege to serve in many hospital leadership positions, such as chairman on Infection Control and Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee, and I taught medical students and residents every day. I am the only infectious disease physician in St. Petersburg who routinely sees Medicaid patients in the office, and provide medical care to many hospitalized indigent patients.
My fellow physicians and colleagues appreciate the many years of experience and expertise I bring in caring for their patients.
Speakers for pharmaceutical companies, such as myself, not only receive years of advanced training in their specialty but also undergo additional training on the products they speak on. Educating physicians and other health care providers at speaking events is a great way of enhancing the knowledge on new infectious disease research and products they can use in the everyday practice of medicine.
Finally, I want to thank my many colleagues and patients for their support of my practice of infectious disease, and for their trust in the good quality of medicine my practice delivers every day.
Jeffrey Levenson, M.D., St. Petersburg
Prostate testing advice shifting March 4, story
Stick with the testing
This article reports that the American Cancer Society is recommending men no longer have routine tests for prostate cancer. They feel that men are going to die from something anyway, so why worry about prostate cancer. They say this in spite of the fact that prostate cancer killed 27,000 men last year.
Last December my annual PSA blood test showed a significant increase. A rectal exam by a urologist revealed an unusual lump. A month later, I had a prostate biopsy performed and it was confirmed that I had prostate cancer. Last month I underwent surgery to remove my prostate. A pathological exam of the removed prostate indicated that the cancer was entirely confined to the gland itself, and had not spread to other parts of my body.
As a person who's been there, done that, I think the American Cancer Society is out of its collective mind. I don't care how slow-growing prostate cancer is, and I don't care how likely I am to die from some other cause, I'm extremely happy not to have some killer growing in my body.
Knowing everything I know now, and even after reading the ACS's recommendations, I'd do exactly the same thing again in a heartbeat. And I strongly recommend that all men do as I did. Get regular testing for prostate cancer, and act swiftly to have it removed if it does appear.
A.T. Barnard, Beverly Hills
Bill would put calories on menus | March 6
Hard to swallow
As I was reading the paper last Saturday, a sentence took me by such surprise that I couldn't believe it wasn't highlighted. It said, "Restaurants would face no penalty if the calorie counts aren't accurate."
So why bother having the restaurants and the government go to the trouble and expense of implementing a program we can't have any faith in? Does anyone remember the Seinfeld episode about the frozen yogurt?
Dr. Lori Degaetano, Largo
The example of U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York is typical of what is wrong with Congress and proof that term limits are needed. Politicians become more corrupt with each re-election, and until the American public demands term limits, we will continue to see these stories develop in the news.
If Americans would use Google to look up the corporate funds their senators and congressmen have taken, they would understand why these so-called representatives vote the way they do instead of the way they should.
If Americans do not demand change in the next election by replacing all currently serving members of Congress, they will continue to see the same gridlock on Capitol Hill.
Carol Cross, New Port Richey
Water and sinkhole woes
A stressed-out state
While most of the attention about sinkholes and water use has recently been focused on farmers, our leaders need to focus on a whole range of causes and answers. I'm sure heavy water use to protect crops was the immediate cause, but overall this use pales compared to the huge demand from our continued dependence on "growth now and forever."
In my lifetime, Florida's population has grown by about 13 million, and looking at all indicators has in many areas already passed the point of being sustainable by our resources. Water is just one of the first to become so apparent. Just look at the dry cypress domes in Pasco and lakeside docks that haven't been near the water's edge in years.
Yet now some would have us "solve" our economic woes by making it ever easier to develop even more. To protect our very lives, our leaders must insist that any further development be totally sustainable — whether by providing water by desalination or other means. But this sustainablility has to take into account all current established uses unless those uses are bought out or otherwise replaced by the planned development. And last time I looked, life as we know it depends on air, water and food (hmm … farmers) more than on shopping centers and even roads.
Ken McLaughlin, Zephyrhills
Cause for skepticism | March 6, letter
On the warming side
A recent letter writer attempts to make the case against the scientific consensus on the science of global warming. The letter writer makes great efforts to attack USF graduate students, NASA's Dr. James Hansen and Al Gore. However, looking closely he seems to be basing his attack on three "facts." Let's look at these closer.
First, the letter writer brings up a recent study of ice cores that suggest rising atmospheric carbon concentrations lag rather than precede global warming periods. He neglects to mention that this study states that this may be true at the end of recent ice ages. Although we have had a cold winter, no one I am aware of would argue that we are at the end of an ice age.
Next the letter writer states that the scientific consensus began to unravel when a court in the United Kingdom undermined Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Here the letter writer ought to take his earlier advice and "follow the money." An October 2007 case in the United Kingdom challenged the screening of Gore's climate change documentary in secondary schools. The person bringing the case was backed by a Scottish quarrying magnate supported by a powerful network of business interests with close links to the fuel and mining lobbies. While in the judge's opinion the film had errors, he ruled it was "broadly accurate" and decided it could continue to be shown in schools.
Finally, the letter writer brings up the East Anglia University Climate Unit e-mails. The vast majority of the 1,000-plus e-mails are routine and unsuspicious. A small percentage show the sensitivity of scientists, and none, when placed into proper context, appear to reveal fraud or other scientific misconduct.
The letter writer concludes by saying that research should continue. No one would disagree.
Richard Feigel, St. Petersburg
The dizzy delights of spring and baseball March 6, Garrison Keillor column
Garrison Keillor's Saturday column, other than the first and last paragraph, reminds us happily that once again, spring — and baseball — is in the air.
But why the obligatory need for political invective? We get it, Mr. Keillor, from each of your columns: You love all Democrats, and hate all Republicans. One would think, and hope, that a highly successful man in his late 60s with a 12-year-old daughter could be a bit more upbeat and optimistic about life and the coming of spring up north, but I guess not in his case.
Keillor at least admits to having become "ponderous," so I'll skip his future columns before he attempts to ruin any more of life's simple pleasures for me.
Peter Ford, Tierra Verde