Budget crisis offers a chance to revamp district
As a Pinellas district teacher I am saddened by all of the losses our district will be digesting — mostly losses that hurt children. The 2 percent pay cut will be a hard swallow to me personally, but I guess we all have to do our part. It's mainly because we are stuck with a Legislature that cares nothing about education and children.
I do agree with deputy superintendent Julie Janssen though, that this could be a time to reinvent the district. As an elementary school teacher, I sit in a school with a principal, assistant principal, behavior specialist and a guidance counselor. Yet it is the teachers themselves who end up dealing almost totally with school discipline. If we send a child to them, 80 percent of the time the child will be sent back within minutes for us to deal with.
That's why deputy superintendent Harry Brown's comment disturbs me. He wants to keep assistant principals to deal with discipline and teacher evaluations. So why do we need principals and behavior specialists, too? Either keep the principals (that's who used to do those tasks) or the assistants and have the behavior specialists assist. My school is just one in this district with almost as many chiefs as workers.
Elaine Stevens, Clearwater
It's a small cut
While I have been very disappointed with the Legislature for underfunding our school systems for years, I think the teacher union needs a reality check. For years they have been crying over low pay. Now they are up in arms over a small (2 percent) pay cut. Their average salary is around $48,000, they work for nine months a year and their retirement plan is a superb defined-benefit plan. In short, the teacher union wants us to believe teachers are poorly compensated when in fact they have a decent salary and great benefits.
I wish no one had to take a pay cut, but it isn't going to hurt teachers to take a 2 percent pay cut. Just think of all those folks who have seen their salaries drop and/or lost their jobs in the private market. Just because you work for the government doesn't mean you are immune to economic forces. And, yes, I think teachers are extremely valuable members of our society, just not underpaid!
David Shafer, St. Petersburg
The proposals by Pinellas County school officials to cut salaries by 2 percent for most district employees, close seven to 10 schools, eliminate 147 jobs and reassign 170 employees is not acceptable, and Pinellas officials better go back to the table to discuss other alternatives.
The Pinellas County Commission is entertaining the idea to extend the 1-cent-on-the-dollar bed tax for the purpose of helping the Rays with financing their new stadium. Indeed, extend this bed tax and perhaps raise it a penny but don't dare use this revenue for a new baseball stadium.
I believe this county is not in as bad a shape as legislators would have us believe, but I do believe that revenue is being spent wrongly and wasted. The education of our children is already subpar in this state compared to the rest of the country, and to further jeopardize it with these proposals is not acceptable.
Jack Burlakos, Kenneth City
Support staff hit hard
As a support staff employee of the Pinellas County schools, I understand the need to look at all options related to cuts and layoffs. The 2 percent reduction in pay recommended for instructional, administrative and employees who are not in an eight-hour position is wrong.
Teachers have been underpaid for years and to take this away would be tragic. This cut in pay would affect 14,000 employees. The other 2,000 employees who currently work eight-hour days are subject to losing a half hour per working day. What is not being said is that this projected reduction in salary would equate to a 6 to 7 percent loss in pay.
These are the employees who can least afford it. The support staff plays a vital role in the educational system. Let's have a fair and equitable solution to this process.
Earl Lownsbury, Seminole
A leadership cop-out
As almost anyone with experience in making budget cuts in the business world knows, an across-the-board salary reduction is the worst possible approach. It's a leadership cop-out that only serves to destroy what traces of positive morale and motivation might exist in the workplace.
Reducing the number of positions/employees is far more effective. Head-count reduction provides an opportunity to eliminate the least effective employees (a good thing) with little collateral damage to the balance of the work force. Hopefully the School Board will step up and chart the proper course before it's too late!
Bruce Baldwin, Seminole
Pawns in the game
The idea of cutting teachers' pay to help offset the loss of state funding is only possible if teachers see themselves as pawns, easily preyed upon by the kings and queens of Tallahassee. I am certainly glad that my sons and daughters were educated in a state where teachers valued both themselves and their profession.
To hear the executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association holding out hope of a small raise confirms my appraisal of Florida's education system. As long as teachers are impotent and victimized, they will turn out students who hold those same beliefs.
John H. Mason, Clearwater
2 majors at USF face scrutiny | April 28, story
As members of the National Organization for Women, Tampa Chapter, we are greatly concerned about the possibility of restructuring the Women's Studies Department at University of South Florida, with the possibility of merging it with other departments or integrating the current faculty into related disciplines.
The USF Women's Studies Department is one of the oldest in the United States and indeed the only department-level program in the state of Florida. The department achieved this status through hard work and political acumen over many years. To lose the status of department at this time would be ill-advised as there is little likelihood of reinstatement when the budget permits. This is not a process done lightly.
As an organization concerned with women's issues and social justice, NOW views the possibility of doing away with the Department of Women's Studies as an unmitigated tragedy. There is no other department or program that focuses on the use of gender, along with race and class, as categories of analysis, to facilitate the investigation of the role of gender in culture, family, health, politics and education.
This change would not allow the faculty to be peers with faculty of other departments, and they would be marginalized, without a voice, and excluded from decisionmaking — the very shortcomings this department was developed to mitigate.
Eleanor Cecil, for the board of the Tampa Chapter of the National Organization for Women, Lutz
Farm workers denied 1 cent | April 11, editorial
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a labor union organization, has now linked its "penny-per-pound" initiative to an antislavery movement in order to step up pressure on national restaurant chains. In response to your April 11 editorial, the members of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange want to set the record straight regarding their stance on both of those issues.
Regarding slavery or human trafficking, we are absolutely on the same side as everyone else. Tomato growers condemn slavery and are on record that we will work with law enforcement in whatever way we can to ensure violators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
As for the extra penny per pound, we don't object to the fast-food chains paying extra wages to the workers who pick the tomatoes they buy. Our members simply cannot be the conduit through which the payment flows for a variety of legal reasons. The restaurant companies and the CIW are certainly capable of setting up a system to ensure extra wages go to the harvesters without involving the growers.
We believe that under the cover of being a social organization hoping to better the life of farm workers, the CIW is in fact a labor organization as defined under Florida statutes and that certain employees of the CIW are business agents as defined under Florida statutes. CIW is organized and acts for the purposes of improving its members' hours of employment, rates of pay, working conditions and grievances relating to employment.
What's more, the CIW is attempting to negotiate wage increases for tomato workers by using secondary boycotts against the fast-food chains. We pay our workers competitive wages given that these are low-skilled, entry-level jobs. Just as any other business, we cannot survive without our workers. If we don't pay them fairly and treat them fairly, we would have no work force to help us provide Americans with nutritious and healthful produce.
Reggie Brown, executive vice president, Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, Maitland
McCain touts market as health care cure
April 30, story
McCain's plan is flawed
Let me get this straight. John McCain plans to use the "market" to solve the health insurance crisis by: having the federal government subsidize health insurance premiums, creating a federally funded corporation to cover people with pre-existing conditions, taking away state regulation of insurance and replacing it with federal regulation, replacing generally accepted medical standards with standards devised by federal bureaucracy to ensure quality of care, and making payment to health care providers dependent upon federally mandated measures of treatment success.
Supposedly this is a better "market" solution than a system that would allow all health care consumers to pool their premiums into a single-payer pool with the single-payer negotiating the amount of payments to health care providers.
In one of the debates, Sen. McCain suggested that economics was not his strong suit. He was certainly right in that regard.
Ed Bradley, Lithia
McCain touts market as health care cure
April 30, story
John McCain's so-called health care reform is nothing more than the same old futile tax-credit-based suggestions that have been demonstrably useless. He dismisses any universal, comprehensive government-administered methods of coverage as "inefficient and wasteful," as though the current system isn't. And the Democrats' offerings are only marginally better.
All industrialized countries except the United States operate mostly state-run universal health care systems. Without exception, they cost far less than the American fragmented nightmare. Without exception, they result in better preventive care and life expectancies. And without exception, they are immensely popular with their beneficiaries. Politicians in these countries meddle with their national health plans at their peril.
If the cosseted Washington suits want to know what kind of health coverage voters want, let there be a national referendum.
Nick Hobart, New Port Richey
Florida still risks botched executions
April 26, editorial
I read this editorial a couple of times and could not believe it. This one-sided editorial overlooks two more important issues on this subject that were not even addressed.
• There is not one mention of the crimes that those on death row perpetrated and the sorrow that they inflicted on the families of the victims.
• There's no mention of the tremendous costs that these criminals have inflicted on the taxpayers over the many years that they and their attorneys have stalled their rightful dues. My, it's a shame that those murderers have to experience a few seconds or minutes of pain.
Surely you can do much, much better than this totally one-sided editorial.
Arnold Schuppert, Sun City Center
Put older drivers to the test | April 26, letter
He's a safe driver
I recently passed the eye test with flying colors, and my driver's license was renewed for six years. It is also stamped "Safe Driver."
Florida requires those age 80 and over to pass an eye test. I am 84 and have been driving for 70 years. In all those years, I received one ticket for a moving violation. I was caught in a speed trap by a wolf pack of six cruisers and one radar vehicle.
I recently read that, comparing an equal number of teens and drivers over 65, the teens are involved in three times more accidents.
Joseph Welch, St. Petersburg