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Shortchanging schools is nothing new in Florida

Teacher test has whopping new cost | May 20, story

Shortchanging schools is nothing new

Back in the '60s, during a particularly harsh winter, I decided I'd had enough snow and cold. I came to Florida during spring break, from the frozen north, with the intention of finding a teaching job where the weather was one less thing I had to fight. As a young, first-year teacher with several relatives already living here, it seemed like an easy transition to make.

My interview with the head of what is now called human resources went well. I was offered my choice of several high schools, all in need of vocational and industrial education teachers. There was just one problem. My contract as a first year teacher with a master's degree and vocational certification in Gary, Ind., was paying me more than what was being earned by the person who interviewed me, who had more than 20 years experience. In short, I would have had to take more than a 50 percent cut in pay to make the move. And except for snow shovels, boots and mittens, there was little difference in the costs of living.

Fast forward 40 years and Florida's public education system still falls miserably short of the national average in areas like salary, dropout rates, the number of students going on to college, and of those who go to college from high school, the percent who actually graduate. We won't even mention test scores in math and reading.

Tripling the cost of teacher certification tests just adds one more nail to the coffin and drives away good teachers. This kind of mentality indicates that the state Board of Education members are surely products of their own flawed system. Hello, teaching is a job, not missionary work! What does it tell you when teachers from many other states are of the opinion that if one wants a good education for their children in Florida, they must send them to private or parochial schools?

The state Board of Education has learned from poor teachers, the state Legislature. Higher fees and higher taxes are a greedy and shortsighted fix. If you can read this, thank a teacher!

Everett Melnick, St. Petersburg

We must change our wasteful ways with water

By continuing to use drinking water on lawns we are gambling that: rainfall will not only get back to normal soon, but also make up the shortfall of recent years; and that the reservoir and desal plant will become fully functional. The reward, should both events work in our favor, is nice looking lawns. For now.

If we lose such a bet, the risk ranges from deteriorating ecosystems and much higher water rates, to rationing or even an inability of the area to support the current population. Worse yet, the risk never goes away because the payoff — those green lawns — is temporary, lasting only as long as the water supply holds up. This terrible risk/reward makes lawn watering a foolish gamble, one we should not take.

While the elimination of lawn watering is an effective and inexpensive short-term solution, it alone is unlikely to solve our long-term water situation. This region's population has grown too much, too fast, and giving up our lawns is just one of several adjustments we better make.

We need to recycle the water we flush, or better yet, switch to waterless commodes. Golf courses could be required to use reclaimed water. Agriculture must embrace vertical farming with drip irrigation. Building codes should prevent clear cutting for large developments, requiring instead the minimum amount of vegetation be removed.

These water-saving measures are important, but it is the disproportionately huge quantities consumed for commercial use, in particular phosphates and cement, that ultimately need to be addressed. Maybe it's time to do a cost benefit analysis of water-intensive industries. How many jobs do they create, what is their economic impact to the area and is it justified by their tremendous, perhaps unsustainable, water consumption?

Whether the current drought is in its infancy or final month, one thing is clear: From lawns to golf courses, from toilets to large developments, from agriculture to industry, when it comes to water business as usual is no longer acceptable.

Chip Thomas, Tampa

Save some for the future

Only a short time ago people finally seemed to realize that we are a state in which water is in grave short supply. People actually contemplated conservation of this precious resource. There was talk of Florida-friendly landscape, raising thermostats and restricting many other water-wasting activities so that our children, grandchildren, and all future generations would still have enough water to survive.

We have houses being swallowed by sink holes created by the depletion of water from the aquifer. There was nearly a lynch mob mentality toward the engineers, inspectors and the contractors who were involved in the construction of the dysfunctional desal plant and the leaky reservoir. Studies were conducted to see which buildings with cooling towers were in compliance with the thermostat requirements. There were articles that seemed to border on witch hunts toward the biggest water wasters in the area.

Now after only a few days of rain, there has already been talk of easing the restrictions on water usage. It seems that all common sense has also dwindled at a rate proportional to the wasting of our water supply, which is not endless. For the sake of the future of our state, please consider leaving the restrictions in place at least while your yards are being watered sufficiently by mother nature. Save something for our children, their children and future generations.

Bill Owen, Pinellas Park

Habitat gets a $100M gift | May 15

Local need remains

As the Pinellas County affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, we applaud the generous gift made by a Habitat for Humanity International board member. Although Habitat International has already considered many viable ways of distributing these funds, we want to guard against an incorrect impression in our own community that the result of this gift is that our local efforts will be fully funded.

First, this is a legacy gift and will not be immediately forthcoming. Although it has not been determined how the $100 million will be allocated, there has been discussion about earmarking $30 million for U.S. building efforts, with the remaining $70 million going to building homes in other countries. An even distribution of the $30 million would result in $20,000 per affiliate, less than half of the amount necessary to construct a U.S. Habitat home.

Second, many people may not realize that the local Habitat affiliate does not receive funding from Habitat International. In fact, we send 10 percent of our funds to Habitat International as part of our affiliate contract. This money, called tithe, goes toward constructing homes in other countries. To date, Habitat in Pinellas County has constructed 165 local homes with volunteers and our partner families and 152 homes through the tithe.

The need in our community, unfortunately, is much greater than this. If you are interested in helping to house families right here in Pinellas County, please consider volunteering or donating directly to our local affiliate at

Barbara Inman, executive director, Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County, St. Petersburg

British speaker resigns amid expense scandal | May 20

Couldn't happen here

So the last speaker of the House of Commons to resign prior to Michael Martin "was in 1695 when Sir John Trevor was forced out after it was found he accepted a bribe to push through legislation."

That would never happen in the U.S. Congress.

John E. Dorgan, Spring Hill

Shortchanging schools is nothing new in Florida 05/24/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 24, 2009 8:39pm]
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