Don't send your kid to private school Sept. 1, commentary
Benefits of diversity
Kudos to Allison Benedikt for her call in support of public schools. It's about time someone spoke up on this issue.
My entire family is proud to say we are public school graduates and I think we have done okay in life. For my husband and I, private school wasn't an option, but what was an abundant option was direct parental involvement in our education. It was not always easy for them as they held full-time jobs working long hours. Ours was definitely not a privileged life.
For our children, private school was definitely an option but one I chose to forgo. We felt our kids lived very privileged lives as it is — never fearing going hungry, always knowing they had clean clothes to wear and living in a clean and safe neighborhood — and they needed to see that not everyone is so blessed. By attending integrated schools with kids from all walks of life, they not only learned their ABC's but also were enriched by their daily contact with so many diverse children, teachers, counselors and principals.
Throughout their secondary and postgraduate schooling, they continued to support public schools because they got the most bang for their dollars and were spared coming out of school with gigantic school loans. They are both practicing physicians in the Tampa Bay area.
All of us should be in this together to ensure that all our children, not only those who can afford it, get the best possible education.
Diana Rao, Tampa
Formula for success
There are two glaring weaknesses in Allison Benedikt's premise that jump out at me. First, what are her credentials? Is she an educator? I have spent 20-plus years as a guidance counselor in the public school system.
Secondly, she claims that if everybody would just come back to public schools, in time, everything would be all right. Such naivete! If we have more kids, we will have more failing kids until we change the way we do business in our public schools.
If every principal had the privilege of putting together the best faculty and dismissing those not committed to excellence, you would begin to notice an immediate difference.
I'm going to make a prediction. Watch Lacoochee Elementary in Pasco County have great success this year. Because they were a failing school, the state stepped in and the entire staff was dismissed and only the best were hired for this school year (which did include some staff from last year who reapplied). The union did not have any say in who was hired.
And therein lies the problem. Don't ever believe that the union has students as its first priority. Its first task is to protect the jobs of teachers. And throughout the public school system are myriads of individuals who could never last in the private sector but are secure as teachers even though they are incompetent. Until that changes, it doesn't matter how many students are in the public schools.
Private schools can hire the best and dismiss those who aren't succeeding. Until things change, send your child to private school.
Don Letzring, Palm Harbor
Start with the very young
It seems I read at least one article every day in the Times regarding the problems in our public school system, and I have never read what I consider to be the answer to our problems.
Of course, learning begins in the cradle, and parents must be educated as to why they must read and talk with their babies from birth. We must also pour money into preschool programs staffed with talented and devoted teachers and pay them a competitive salary. We must provide free preschools with convenient hours for the parents, especially those in low-income neighborhoods who must leave their babies to go to work.
Young children love to learn. They are sponges for learning and see, hear, taste and feel everything in their new environment, and we need to take advantage of this and provide the stimulation they thrive upon to ensure that this love of learning continues throughout their lives.
Stop wasting time and money on bloated administrative salaries, studies, meetings, new types of testing, etc., and start teaching the very young and sit back and watch them shine.
Betty Dreier, Tampa
Gaetz aide profits as big political consultant Sept. 2
Arrogance in power
A recent quote in the Times by Don Gaetz, Florida Senate president, was unusually telling. The story was about his right-hand man, Chris Clark, getting $400,000 from special interest groups that want to influence the lawmakers.
Nothing new there: standard Tallahassee corruption.
But when asked about the revolving door between politicians, consultants and lobbyists, Gaetz said: "It's a practice that Democrats and Republicans have used without any serious problem that I'm aware of."
The statement is correct from his perspective, which only includes wealthy, powerful insiders. The system works perfectly for them. However, for ordinary working people the system is a very big problem that he cannot, or more likely, chooses not to see.
Gaetz does not bother to hide his arrogance. The system is solidly rigged, and he need not fear the voters.
Gene Storrs, Clearwater
South Florida scores a corruption trifecta Sept. 4, commentary
It's the voters' responsibility
Carl Hiaasen's article on corruption should wake up Florida voters. Our politicians have no problem showing their desire to do the bidding of the lobbyist with the most cash. Time and time again, when important issues come before our legislators, it's the lobbyists and their cash that win out.
Would you vote them into office if their campaign slogan was "Vote for me so I can get all that lobbyist cash"? Please, don't wait for that day to come before we change the game.
Richard Gentile, Tampa
Syria plan gains backing | Sept. 5
Recipe for misadventure
The following conditions should be prerequisite to a military strike by the United States in the Syrian civil war: (1) Substantive evidence that it is in the vital security interests of the United States to do so, rather than some nebulous assumptions that our macho image will be tarnished if we decline to do so; (2) A guarantee that the rebels are not comprised of jihadist wolves disguised in the sheep's clothing of so-called moderate Muslims; (3) A clearly defined and achievable aftermath plan that assures that any military involvement by the United States in Syria will not cause that country to disintegrate into a landscape "up for grabs" by al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
None of those requisites have been met by the Obama administration in its effort to gain approval for such a strike. The political rhetoric out of Washington seeks to calm us with the assurance that this will only be a nominal display and will not drag us into a civil war the ramifications of which are beyond our control. This, unfortunately, is a recipe for misadventure rather than a well-designed plan for a successful accomplishment.
Jack B. McPherson, New Port Richey
Put natural Florida first, not dollars | Sept. 4
Growing the green spaces
When I served briefly on the Agency for Bay Management, we reviewed the proposed surplus lands list in the Tampa Bay region. We were told that the issue was the upkeep of small pockets of land that had previously been purchased to protect larger areas.
At that time, I suggested that the state make these pockets available for free to the counties or cities or other public entities (such as public universities) or nonprofits that, by proximity to these areas, can readily maintain them and increase their own green space. The state saves on the annual maintenance (a substantial savings) and Florida keeps its green spaces. Any recipient of free state lands would be prohibited from selling the lands, of course.
Jennifer Salmon, councilwoman, Gulfport