Talking about our crisis in public education is akin to talking about our energy crisis. We have been talking about them since the Arab oil embargo in 1973 and the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983. And until we are ready to discuss the hard realities of our education system, talk will remain useless.
There are facts that are so politically incorrect that few want to address them:
• Schools have been required to assume the surrogate parent role because parents won't or can't be involved with their children's education.
• If good teachers are "born" and not "made," then colleges of education have yet to see how to separate them. Generations of competent and incompetent teachers have graduated without distinction between them.
• Just how many first-year teachers have stopped teaching because they were not prepared for the crushing paperwork? The number is larger than most of us might suspect.
• Former Florida Education Commissioner Betty Castor had it right when she wanted to empower decisionmaking at the lowest possible level. State and federal bureaucracies make that impossible.
• Teachers unions have protected the incompetent for too long. If they had not, then our good teachers might be better respected and better paid.
• Charter schools came into being because public schools didn't and can't meet the needs of every child. That hasn't changed and isn't likely to. Complaining about them isn't going to make public schools better.
Peter Klingman, Tampa
Just left wondering | June 12
Wonderful Broadway show deserved better
My wife and I were fortunate to catch the last performance of Wonderland at the Straz Center in Tampa before the show and went to Broadway. The crowd that night was exuberant. One doesn't get to root for the home team very much when it comes to theater in the area, but here was a winner.
Wonderland was a fun show, cleverly scripted, well performed, with great costumes and wonderful overall production values. By all accounts, the standing ovation we gave Wonderland that night was well earned and easy to give.
So what happened in New York? We can speculate. Perhaps if the play had been able to make it into summer, the people coming to New York and taking in the show could have offset the critics' cynical and one-sided reviews.
I remember when the Bucs lost 26 games in a row. The Glazers make demands on the city backed by threats and the city always caves. What's wrong with this picture? If Wonderland didn't make it on Broadway, I hope all those with an interest in theater in the Tampa Bay area do not lose heart. It was a great show that didn't make it on Broadway. That's all. Broadway is like getting to the Super Bowl. Not many teams can claim to even be in the competition. Wonderland got there. Let's take a page out of the book from our local sports fans. We're not quitting.
A community worth its salt must dig in for the long haul. Theater is worth it.
Angelo Spoto, Temple Terrace
Privatizing state prison health care services June 1
I would like to clarify a few points and emphasize Wexford Health's strong relationship with the Florida Department of Corrections at the time the contract ended.
The story includes statements from a Senate report indicating that Wexford Health had problems. Unfortunately it did not clarify that the problems were from the initial monitoring report on the first 45 days of the contract. As the story stated, the Department of Corrections experienced staffing shortfalls prior to executing the contract. These shortfalls created a very challenging initial contract period.
Starting in July 2001, Wexford Health partnered with the Department of Corrections on Florida's first regional privatization of correctional health care, providing services to more than 17,000 offenders in 13 prisons across the southern region of the state. This yielded many achievements and positive outcomes for the department and the state.
In a 2005 legislatively mandated procurement process, Wexford Health was underbid on the southern region contract by more than $9 million per year. At that time the health care program was in good standing and Wexford Health had achieved accreditation on its health care operations at all 13 facilities from the American Correctional Association.
Although we expressed our opinion that the selected vendor's pricing was too low to successfully operate the contract, the state awarded the contract to the low bid anyway. Within six months, the vendor approached the department requesting additional compensation. When the department declined to increase its payments, the vendor gave notice that it was terminating the contract and subsequently ceased operations.
Wendelyn R. Pekich, director, marketing and communications, Wexford Health Sources Inc., Pittsburgh
A bit of rum, then panic | June 14
Follow the directions
For years in our family, an annual Christmas treat has been old English plum pudding, made the year before, served with flaming rum.
The bottle of 151-proof rum says on the label: "Warning: Flammable Liquid. Do not use this product for flaming dishes or drinks. All 151-proof rum may flare up and continue to burn when ignited, possibly with an invisible flame. Do not pour directly from bottle near the flame or intense heat. Use caution."
The rum to be flamed should be prepared in advance and stored in a bottle carefully labeled: half 151-proof rum, half regular 80-proof rum. Liquor used for flaming must be 100 proof or over. The mixture above is about 115 proof, and our family has found it to give a nice, safe flame, visible with the lights turned low. However, even at this reduced strength, it is still a very flammable liquid and must be used with caution.
Heed the old slogan: "When all else fails, read the directions."
Miles Snyder, St. Petersburg
Hands Across the Sand
Say no to offshore drilling
On Saturday, June 25, I'll be joining hands with other Tampa Bay residents against offshore drilling. And we won't be alone. Similar events will be happening nationwide as Americans unite in favor of clean energy. Our leaders may have forgotten, but for me the BP oil disaster was a wakeup call. More than a year later the region is still recovering from the millions of gallons of oil that spewed into the gulf and came ashore.
The risks of another disaster have not gone away. Our addiction to oil is dirty and dangerous, and we need to keep the oil industry from ruining more of our oceans and shared public lands. It's time to end the oil industry's stranglehold on our economy. Choices and innovation — public transit, walking and biking infrastructure, and better, more fuel-efficient cars — are the real solutions to pain at the pump, not more drilling.
I hope you'll join me in saying no to offshore drilling and yes to clean energy.
Cyrus Newcomb, St. Petersburg
Bears are off endangered list | June 9
Habitats still at risk
To many, a Florida without the Florida black bear is unimaginable. It should be.
Equally unimaginable should be a Florida without the many lesser-known species woven into natural Florida's fabric, like the jewel-like, multicolored Florida tree snail, which some people travel great distances to spot deep in the hammocks of South Florida.
Then there's the gopher frog, dependent on the habitat provided by gopher tortoise burrows that once covered Florida's expansive upland habitats. Longleaf pine and other upland systems have substantially dwindled and become fragmented under human pressure.
It may seem an odd time to consider these losses, following the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's decision last week to remove 16 species — including these three — from the state's threatened species list.
It's not. In fact, it may be the best time.
The Nature Conservancy has not evaluated the data used by the commission's biologists to make their delisting recommendations, but positive news about some of Florida's most vulnerable species is certainly welcome.
The truth, though, is that the welfare of all the delisted species depends on something that does appear seriously threatened.
Continued viability of the delisted species and countless others relies on protected habitat and conservation management actions like controlled burns, invasive species control and habitat restoration. Funding for both land protection and management has been cut.
We are grateful for success stories but are concerned that without continued investment in natural resources and their management, species recovery will be short-lived.
Doria Gordon, director of conservation science, the Nature Conservancy in Florida, Gainesville
A welcome discovery
I am a recent visitor to Largo and will soon be a part-time resident. While there, I discovered not only wonderful and friendly people, but a terrific newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times. It is very much like my hometown paper, the Providence Journal, with many of the same familiar features and some wonderful new ones. Your paper helped me learn more about the community where I'll be spending some time.
I look forward to enjoying my time in Largo and reading my new hometown newspaper.
Joanne Stenovitch, Cumberland, R.I.
Solidifying the vow to protect children June 13, commentary
Church should do more
St. Petersburg Bishop Robert N. Lynch mentioned the Dallas Charter, established 10 years ago to protect children from sexual abuse by the clergy. Many Catholics believe that the charter needs significant improvement to be effective in protecting children — for example, amending it to mandate specific disciplinary actions for violations.
Sadly, this has not been the case. One has only to look at the clergy sex abuse trial in Philadelphia, where two archbishops allowed credibly accused priests to remain in ministry.
It is clear to me that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is not fully listening to its people.
Gerard Vernot, Land O'Lakes
Bring travel tax cheats to justice June 14, editorial
Consumers are the winners
Online travel companies that find ways around frivolous tax codes are not cheating the people of Florida. By providing consumers the best possible price for travel arrangements, online companies encourage affordable travel and promote commerce. A traveler's dollar saved from local taxation is usually a dollar spent on local business and not on government inefficiency.
If local governments were serious about raising tax revenue, they would simplify their tax codes and do away with "bed fees" and other hidden taxes, thus preventing loopholes from appearing in the first place.
Entrepreneurs are what have made this country great. They serve people by responding to needs in the marketplace. Online travel companies are no different. If anything these companies are akin to Robin Hood: taking back our tax dollars from the politicians who have cheated us for so long.
Paul Lazaro, Tampa
Remembering his sacrifices
He was a man small of stature, but tough and determined. Having neither fame nor wealth, he came to America to find opportunity — an immigrant from a country, Greece, to which he never returned.
At age 70, he should have been retired and relaxing with his wife, enjoying the hard-earned fruits of his life's work. Instead he was still mixing cement and plaster, and in those hot Miami summers the sweat would stream off his nose, chin and elbows. Carrying 45-pound cans of mixed plaster, one in each hand, he walked them from outside to upstairs, then up a ladder to scaffolding. He spread it onto to the ceiling, frantically hurrying before it hardened.
This was work that could overpower the strongest of men, let alone an elderly man with high blood pressure, arthritis and other health problems. But he still had a son in college. Willingly and with no regret, he worked in great discomfort so that his boy would have all that he needed to finish college with no concern for money. The father had no expectation of outside help. Nothing had ever come easily for him, and without a formal education or profession, this was the only way he knew to get the boy through college.
Yes, I was the "boy," as he called me. My father was one of the most courageous and toughest men I've ever known. His ability to withstand pain and overcome adversity was extraordinary. Now in my retirement, I can reflect on the life made possible by his graciously allowing me a free and clear college education and the opportunity and dignity it brings.
Anthony S. Comitos, Palm Harbor
Importance of coverage
It seems every time there is a fire at an apartment complex, the media neglects to mention the importance of renters insurance. This is fairly inexpensive and quite valuable coverage. It provides protection for contents and liability.
We hear how the Red Cross will assist families, but that's typically very short txt>term, with two to three nights' lodging and a bag of clothes.
People need to realize the importance of personal accountability, and apartment complexes should see the value in advising their potential tenants that they should or even must obtain and maintain this insurance.
Paula M. Keith, Lutz