The Times recently published an article that voiced concern about Florida's school grading system and how letter grades are applied to exceptional student education centers. I want to offer clarification about this matter.
Florida sought and received a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind that allowed us to streamline our education accountability system. The state requested the waiver to be able to move to a single system that eliminates duplicative regulation and makes Florida's accountability measures easier to understand.
As part of the waiver, the Department of Education agreed to use our state's school grading system to measure the learning gains and proficiency of all children. This is the first time that we have included English-language learners in their second year and students with disabilities in the school grade performance component. Florida's schools were asked to choose to receive a letter grade or elect to receive a school improvement rating for exceptional student education centers. If the school chose to receive a rating, the student learning gains and performance were counted in the home school's grade.
The federal waiver requires our state to measure the performance of all schools and all students. I understand that there are concerns about applying these performance components to exceptional student education centers, especially those with students who have significant cognitive disabilities. Under the leadership of the State Board of Education, the department intends to pursue legislative changes regarding alternative schools and exceptional student education centers that should alleviate some of the concerns expressed by school districts. This is not a case of the "state getting it wrong" as the latest news reports claim. Rather, the department is making an unworkable policy better through a flexibility waiver and working to ensure that our state's accountability system is meaningful to parents and taxpayers.
Gerard Robinson, Florida commissioner of education, Tallahassee
How do you take your capitalism? | July 18, commentary
Must be a better way
How do I take my capitalism? Not very well. There must be something better than a few people at the top getting most of the pie while the rest of us struggle. There is no way some should make more than 300 times the average and it still be called fair. How those few can get the most and still convince those not so lucky to go along with them is beyond me.
How can those of us struggling agree that those at the top are the "job creators"? We are the job creators, we are the ones who actually buy the goods and services they produce. If we do not buy, they will not produce no matter how may tax breaks they are given. If we are not making a decent wage, how can we buy?
Mary Sheppard, Riverview
Utility secrets at stake | July 18
Rewarded for poor work
Bill Johnson served less than one day as CEO of the newly combined Duke-Progress Energy, apparently due to a lack of confidence in his ability, in part because of the mishandling of the Crystal River nuclear plant. However, if this is true, he was "rewarded" a large payment for his incompetency.
Meanwhile, customers of the monopoly merger are being charged for a "possible" plant that may never be built several years from now and that is already way over its proposed expense.
Where do the investors of this large company fit in the picture? Have their dividends been reduced? Have any personnel been fired without a golden parachute? If Johnson is being held accountable, why the large settlement? Many more details need to be disclosed to the public.
Lois D. Hawkins, Dunedin
Romney, Obama resume economic attacks July 18
Romney did his job
Bain Capital's mission wasn't to create jobs; it was to buy, fix up (or chop up) and sell companies at, hopefully, an obscene profit. Mitt Romney's responsibility was to make money for investors, period. He was by all accounts extremely successful running it.
Barack Obama's job is to facilitate an environment conducive to a healthy and prosperous private sector, which creates jobs for Americans. He has been an abject failure by any measure. Small business is the backbone of the economy. Constantly trying to raise taxes on the $250,000-and-up taxpayer impacts small businesses, as owners pay taxes via their own returns.
Establishing a new entitlement with myriad unknowns for every 50-plus-employee company during this monumental downturn was just insane. Obama's comments about "spreading the wealth around" and "you didn't build that" regarding entrepreneurs, combined with the aforementioned policies, have capital in flight and capitalism in a state of shock.
I don't care what Romney did with his own money. I do care what Obama has been doing with my money. He is drowning us in a sea of red ink.
Dwayne Keith, Valrico
We need information
When competing for any job or position of responsibility, standard procedure would be to inquire about financial background. If Mitt Romney expects us to give him our trust, he needs to disclose his financial background. If he were getting good counsel from men with integrity, they would tell him to disclose everything immediately. That's how you earn the right to send my son into battle, and to lead this dangerous world into the light.
Kurt Steinmann, Belleair
Nations beef up border security July 15, Canada Report
Border security is weak
Finally, the United States and Canada are strengthening one of the longest ignored borders in the world.
With 26 years of active duty and two years as a civilian military adviser, I have 28 years of traveling all over the world. I can honestly say that the United States has the weakest border security policy of any country that I have ever served in or visited.
The White House, Congress and Pentagon lack the will, intelligence and maturity to properly establish national policies and funding to defend our borders. Perhaps the U.S. government needs to contract with foreign governments and have their military provide additional border security.
Robert F. Sawallesh, Valrico
With F, Imagine school is in jeopardy July 17
Operators must be vetted
When charter schools are created by citizens with proper motivations and employ credible, competent educational personnel, they can be an effective adjunct to regular public schools. There are many out there that are well run and successful.
The Imagine school fiasco could have been easily predicted had the Pinellas County School Board had a modicum of business acumen and ability to effectively vet operator credentials. Imagine Schools Inc. is really a real estate play using naive school systems to guarantee a fantastic return on investment.
I leased space to Imagine in Lutz as a startup office before they bought their building in south Pasco County. I learned that their business model is quite sound: renting school space from themselves at very exorbitant rates. The U.S. tax code, via building depreciation and accelerated component depreciation, makes the investment a sure thing. Cash flow: 1; education: 0.
Scott Wagman, St. Petersburg
Too many polls
I've noticed a disturbing trend where nearly every day, the Tampa Bay Times is printing articles on page one dealing with poll results on various subjects.
Polls aren't news. They are opinions that can be easily manipulated by the particular phrasing of the questions that are asked.
If you choose to report poll results, please print the questions so we can see how they were phrased and so we can make our own judgments about why the numbers came out that way. And keep them off the front page.
Gary Gibbons, Tampa
Auto sales brighten area's dim economy July 19
Caption resembled an ad
This feature on the health of the auto sales industry features a photograph of a Ford truck with the caption, "2012 Ford F150 Platinum: the most fuel-efficient and capable full-size pickup on the market." The photograph carries no credit to a Times photographer, and in its slickness appears to be from Ford promotional materials. The language of the caption is purely promotional. In other words, the auto sales story features a truck advertisement presented as news.
We've all grown used to product placement in movies and television shows. But I thought newspapers still tried to maintain a clear demarcation between editorial/news content and advertisements. This story/ad blurs that line, in one of the few media in which that line still matters.
Unless the editors would like the paper's audience to think its journalistic credibility is for sale, they should be more careful.
Andrew McAlister, Tampa
Boys Scouts reaffirms ban on gays | July 18
Behind the times
A Boy Scout is: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and bigoted.
Larry Bush, Lutz
A welcome change
Thank you for the new banners on the obituary pages. The person who thought of that should be given a big raise. It was very difficult to find the area you were looking for before, but now it just pops out at you.
Eileen Conte, St. Petersburg