I am the art teacher. I am the one who allows the students a little more room to play and bend the rules. I am the one who does not cry over spilled paint or drawing outside of the lines. I am the one who encourages mistakes to happen so overcoming those mistakes can occur. I am the one whose job is in jeopardy due to education cuts. I am the one who our legislators think does not hold a necessary and valued position.
I'm just the art teacher who, once a week, spends 35 minutes (but it should be more) allowing children's creativity to come out. Some weeks it may be a masterpiece; other weeks a work in progress; and at times it is just a free draw gone bad. In between, it is always an exciting portion of a child's weekly educational experience.
When students come to me, I know I'm going to be met with smiles and excitement. I can always count on classroom teachers telling me that their class has been waiting all week to come to art. This happens at a school where the core subjects are not only stressed but accomplished through hard work and wonderful commitment by the classroom teachers.
While I agree that we must continue to push toward academic excellence, I believe the inclusion of the arts is essential to that process.
Justin Holder, DeLand
Great teachers at work
Politicians complain that public schools are failing to provide a quality education to the thousands of students who walk through our doors. What are politicians comparing public schools to? Private schools and charter schools.
Public schools do not give entrance exams to determine the likelihood of success, charge tuition to ensure parent involvement, or turn away students with mental/physical/emotional/learning disabilities.
I teach at Chamberlain High School in Tampa, which tends to bounce yearly between a C and D as our school grade. We graduate roughly 75 percent of our students every year, in spite of low parent turnouts on conference nights, poor attendance rates, and 30-40 girls a year either pregnant or already mothers. Despite the circumstances, the teachers at Chamberlain (and all public schools) give 100 percent to our students every day.
Chamberlain offers over 20 Advanced Placement classes, and most teachers' pass rates are among the highest in the county — beating many A- or B-rated schools.
The politicians who are being so critical of public schools need to spend some time in one. Don't go to an A school or pop in for a press release. Maybe they could substitute at a Title I school that is considered "low performing" for a week to see what really goes on in public schools. I am positive they will see great teachers, amazing students and realize that public schools are actually achieving more than any private/charter school could ever do under the same criteria.
JoAnn Parrino, Tampa
Florida Supreme Court
Splitting court is bad idea
If your legislator said to you, "Instead of focusing on fixing the economy, I'm working on a measure that's going to add bureaucracy and costs to our state government," how would you respond?
That's exactly what is proposed in a Florida House bill that would split the state Supreme Court. It offers a "solution" to an imaginary problem of a caseload backup at the court. But the "solution" is the real problem. It will raise court costs, pack the state's highest court with handpicked political friends and likely take caseload levels through the roof.
What is even stranger is that there is no serious case backlog to "solve." In every one of the past eight years, the court has disposed of more cases than it has placed on the docket. And, in the last 10 years, the court's pending caseload has fallen by nearly half.
With the state currently slashing budgets in every corner, does it make sense to create a court system that would actually increase administrative costs by $17 million a year?
Finally, I've been around long enough to remember the old days before the state reformed its judicial merit selection process. Those changes 40 years ago took away the punch line to the state joke, "What do you call a sitting judge? A friend of the governor." Well, those days could be back if the court system is restacked and packed to create two divisions with three new court seats filled by the governor. I don't think any of us would be happy if the primary qualification for the judge hearing our case was being a friend of the right politician.
This bad idea is a bad deal for Floridians in every way. We'll wind up paying more, waiting longer and facing a highly politicized court.
Stephen N. Zack, president, American Bar Association
Salvador Dalí Museum
Expectations not met
With great expectations we crossed the Sunshine Skyway to visit the new Salvador Dalí Museum. We had all read of the expanded exhibit space and the chance to see more of the master's work than previous space had allowed.
Our expectations were dashed. The four large Dalí masterpieces are squished into limiting spaces that do not allow the viewer to comfortably stand at a distance to see them in all their magnificence without bumping into other patrons viewing other small pictures displayed on horizontal, ladder-like walls that run the length of the long, narrow main gallery.
And across the center third level lobby is a huge, open exhibit area devoted to far lesser known illustrations and movies created by Dalí that, in my opinion, are not the works that most Dalí aficionados would come to the museum to view.
Apparently the building design was driven by space requirements for curatorial offices, library space and a cafe. Someone lost sight of the purpose for a museum, which is to display and view art. The old museum was more appropriate for viewing the art as it should be viewed.
Cathryn C. Girard, Sarasota
Flat tax isn't fair
People are unhappy not only with the present tax structure but with proposals to change it. A recent letter writer advocated a 10 percent across-the-board tax, but 10 percent to a person making minimum wage hurts a lot more than 10 percent of Warren Buffett's billions mean to him. While such a idea sounds attractive because of its simplicity, it doesn't come close to being fair or providing enough revenue.
What is needed is a truly progressive tax (rates rise as your income level rises) without loopholes. You pay tax on a percentage of income regardless of where it comes from. I realize this is more complex than it sounds, but fairness in the tax structure would go a long way toward making Americans feel that we are all in the same boat together. Right now you have some in ocean liners and others in rowboats.
Rene Tamargo, Tampa
Try a sales tax
I propose a simple national sales tax.
It would have these provisions: All government income comes from this tax; whoever collects the tax is paid for collecting it; the government can spend no more than it collects every year; the last checks to be issued are the salaries of Congress — no money left, no pay; and the sales tax can be raised only by a vote of the people.
Mark Crofoot, Tampa
The president is missing | April 12, commentary
There's no fight in him
As usual, Paul Krugman is right on the money concerning President Barack Obama's apparent lack of stamina when it comes to standing up to the Republicans. Does this president not realize that the bulk of the country wants him to fight back?
We don't favor "compromise" with the party of the super rich and the corporations they own. We can see through their trumped-up concern about the deficit. Help us out, Mr. President. Dump your Wall Street-favored advisers.
We the people cannot survive the callous governance of Republicans representing just 1 or 2 percent of the population.
Gail Morris, Safety Harbor
Too much paperwork
Per capita health care costs in the United States are at least 40 percent higher than any other industrialized nation. There are many independent studies that show the higher cost doesn't deliver more effective care.
Why are our health care costs so high? I think a substantial part of it is administration, paperwork and lack of standardization in the way claims are handled. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 30 percent of health care costs go for administration.
The health care industry would better serve its customers, itself and the country by working to lower costs for mainstream health requirements. Instead it develops and then pays to promote drugs for esoteric diseases like "restless leg syndrome," "chronic dry eye," etc.
Derek Roberts, Clearwater
Greyhound legislation moves ahead in House | April 12
Greyhound racing cruel
House Bill 1145 and Senate Bill 1594 would reduce or even eliminate greyhound racing in the state. These are good bills that deserve support.
Unfortunately, greyhound breeders have made all sorts of false economic claims in an effort to defeat these commonsense proposals. In reality, greyhound racing has little economic impact. According to state records, only 476 Florida residents own racing greyhounds, while two-thirds of licensed owners live out of state. This means that millions in Florida prize money is being shipped to owners in New York, California and elsewhere.
Further, greyhound racing is cruel and inhumane. In addition to enduring nearly endless confinement in small, stacked cages, greyhounds suffer injuries and death while racing. Short-term investments, they are valued only as long as they generate a profit, and their postracing fate falls to volunteer groups that rescue and place for adoption as many greyhounds as they can.
I have personally adopted beloved ex-racing greyhounds since 1997, and I am a board member of GREY2K USA, a national nonprofit greyhound protection organization.
Florida lawmakers can help thousands of greyhounds by supporting these humane bills.
Caryn Wood, Gilbert, Ariz.
If it was your child, would you do 'right'? April 13, Sue Carlton column
I am in awe of Deneen Sweat and Nicholas Lindsey Sr. Their courage, their commitment to doing the right thing and their unshakable love of their son moved me to tears. As a mother, I can only hope that I would be able to follow their example under similar circumstances.
Whatever the future holds, I sincerely hope that their love for their son shines through the sorrow and pain.
Bonnie Navin, Gulfport
No place for a tenor
Why would anyone with the slightest sense of music appreciation book Andrea Bocelli for a concert in a hockey arena? The St. Pete Times Forum has the acoustical quality of a large barn and may be fine for rock concerts, which are nothing more than loud noise, but not for this world-recognized tenor.
Fred Beerman, Tampa
Osprey nest vexes work crew | April 12
Bureaucracy run amok
This fiasco is a good example of excess bureaucracy. There were three agencies involved in the removal of the osprey nest from the boom on the crane. Two of them should be eliminated. Think of the savings in paperwork, salaries and perks.
The contractor and the Audubon Society used common sense and safely removed the problem, defying the feds.
David L. Meade, Oldsmar
Lessons from nest
I have two comments regarding the removal of the osprey nest from the crane in Tampa:
1. Ospreys don't build a (huge) nest overnight. If the crane had been operating on a regular basis, the need to remove a nest may very well have never occurred.
2. The fine is only $500. If we're serious about wildlife protection, the fines associated with violating the laws should be substantially higher than that.
Linda Williams, Oldsmar
A visitor's reflections
Letter from London
I've just returned to London with my wife from our annual visit to delightful St. Petersburg in order to attend the Tampa Bay Blues Festival. As always, the welcome we received from everyone we encountered was as warm as the weather over there.
Could I just offer a couple of pieces of advice that would make a British visitor's stay perfect?
First, you don't need to keep commenting on our accent; I'm sure it's genuinely meant as a compliment, and it is indeed flattering (especially speaking as someone whose West Midands-inflected accent is frequently mocked on this side of the pond) — but it gets a little wearying by the eighth time in a day that somebody has told you that you've got a "nice" or (more patronizingly) "cute" accent. I'm sure most of you hear British accents regularly on TV and in movies, so it can't be that unfamiliar or exotic.
Second, please try and bear in mind when gushing to us about "our" royal family, and/or the impending wedding of one of its members, that a very large number of British people have little affection for, and little interest in, a dysfunctional group of people who receive millions of pounds of taxpayers' money each year for, well, not really doing very much.
And to those I meet occasionally who talk glowingly of Maggie Thatcher: Please bear in mind that while she was winning the Cold War with Ronald Reagan, she was also doing irreparable harm to British society — the latter is what she's remembered for by many of us over here.
Jonathan Browne, London