Hillsborough County Head Start
Program to stay in public hands
Head Start has been instrumental in building stable families and giving many children educational opportunities they otherwise might never have. Recently, concerns have been raised by some in the community about the future of Hillsborough County's Head Start. I want those who are concerned to know that I am committed to seeing that Head Start has the resources to continue providing this essential service to the community.
For Head Start to fulfill its mission, the program must be operated with integrity and with sound management practices. For the good of the families and children we serve, every parent, teacher and employee of Head Start must be committed to these goals.
Unfortunately, accusations of mismanagement and misappropriation of federal grant funds have been brought to my attention and have been investigated. The findings of those investigations have left me no choice but to take disciplinary action against a handful of management and staff members in the Head Start program.
These steps ensure that parents will have confidence and trust in those who manage Head Start and care for their children. And they ensure that precious federal grant dollars will not have to be forfeited.
Nevertheless, rumors that the county plans to "privatize" Head Start have been circulated to divert attention from those disciplinary actions. Let me be clear: There are no plans to turn the management and operation of Head Start over to a private company.
What we must do as a community is find ways to deliver essential services, like Head Start, more effectively. This means providing better service to more clients at a reduced cost. I have promised that everyone in the community will have a voice in helping shape these policy decisions.
The Head Start Policy Council and parents will participate in any discussions that concern such collaborations or other alternatives to deliver improved service.
The economic challenges we face call for a fresh look at which services government provides and how best to provide those services for everyone's benefit. As a community, I know we are up to the challenge.
Michael Merrill, Hillsborough County administrator, Tampa
Robyn Blumner and Daniel Ruth columns
Enough with name-calling and ignoring the other side
I have been a subscriber to the Times for several years and a reader for much longer. For the most part, I believe it is a fine newspaper. I'd like to address the two exceptions.
Robyn Blumner does not give much thought to opposing viewpoints. As a political independent, I find that neither party has a monopoly on truth, compassion or morality. The highly partisan tone of her columns puts me off. We would all do well to consider the other side's viewpoint with a little more respect and civility and an open mind.
An even more serious issue to me, however, is the infantile name-calling of Daniel Ruth. It is amazing that an editorial page editor gives so much leeway to such an inflammatory character. His most recent column, in which he viciously attacks Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd for going after the writer and publisher of a guidebook for pedophiles, is what finally has brought me to consider whether I want my subscription money to give a soapbox to writers such as these.
Larry Tyner, Tampa
Sheriff doing good work
I found Daniel Ruth's column regarding Grady Judd way off the mark. Here we have someone who will not coddle criminals who is accused of only caring about his press conferences. Grady, keep up the good work. We need more like you.
Marilyn Kochan, Zephyrhills
Grand jury: Corrupt Fla. needs reforms Dec. 30
I am concerned by the portrayal of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in this article as an agency rife with corruption and theft.
I have worked with the FWC for the past eight years, chiefly through its Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, a world-class research facility in St. Petersburg. In all of my experiences with FWC, never once did I see anything but strict controls on spending, always with a verifiable paper trail for accountability purposes. I have never seen any behavior that would even remotely approach that implied by the article.
The FWC staff that I have had the pleasure of working with over the years has always been exemplary in attitude and dedication. To all the dedicated FWC employees: Hold your heads high. Many appreciate your work.
Dennis O'Hern, executive director, Fishing Rights Alliance Inc., St. Petersburg
Finally, a top ranking
The Times has done Florida a great service by reporting the results of the grand jury findings on corruption — not so much the report itself but the supporting numbers.
There were 800-plus federal convictions between 1998 and 2007. We're No. 1! Our pols make those two-bit amateurs in Illinois, New Jersey and Louisiana look like the petty thieves they are. Boss Tweed and Warren Harding are looking down upon our state and smiling.
True Floridians' hearts are swelling with pride today. Imagine, little ol' Florida, the most politically corrupt state in the union. I propose that we change the state nickname. Forget that sunshine stuff. Florida: the Slush Fund State.
Roger Allen, Tampa
Jobless entitled to benefits | Dec. 30, letter
Employers pay for benefits
As a small business owner, I have read a number of letters stating that Florida employees "pay" into the unemployment compensation program. This is false. The program is funded solely by employers who pay federal and state unemployment compensation taxes and is provided at no cost to the workers who receive the benefits. It is not funded by any deductions from wages employees have earned.
This information comes directly from Florida's unemployment compensation department, the Agency for Workforce Innovation.
David Gill, Temple Terrace
Your child left behind | Dec. 26
Look at teacher training
Thanks for printing the article from the Atlantic on one of America's most embarrassing problems — the failure of our education system. It did not address, however, a critical area that should be high on our list of problems: schools that teach our teachers.
Schools of education need to be graded based on the graduates' performance, and our elementary and high schools should refuse to hire from colleges that produce low-performance graduates.
Bill Beasley, Largo