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Open debate on airport's future makes sense

Re: Albert Whitted Airport

Recently the Times published a lengthy editorial (Best use of airport land, Oct. 24) pointing out that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and his staff are preparing a broad assessment and evaluation of the opportunities presented by the land currently used for Albert Whitted Airport. Nothing was ruled out or in, but the salient point was the assessment was taking place in the context of what may serve the broadest interests of the residents and the future of the city. That is the most reasonable and prudent course of action I can imagine.

The question of weighing and considering such opportunities is well illustrated by the Nov. 7 column by Bill Heller, vice president of the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, in which he touched on the growth potential of the university in terms of programs, faculty, students and physical development. This is one example of the sundry opportunities that need to be weighed and discussed in making any decision.

I have little knowledge of whether changes should occur at Albert Whitted, but isn't it short-sighted not to have an open debate and study on what might be?

James R. Gillespie, St. Petersburg

Whitted presents problems for USF

As student leaders and officers of Student Government at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, we feel it is wise to consider the "What if" questions posed by community leaders about the future of Albert Whitted Airport.

Foremost among our top concerns is campus safety. Common student remarks include inquiring when they are going to put runway lights on our classroom buildings. Although students may joke about these serious possibilities, the reality is there are deep concerns about campus safety. Can we really afford to wait to address this concern until after the campus is the victim of a crash that could possibly result in damage, injury or a loss of life?

Besides posing a threat to campus safety, the air travel situation over our buildings limits campus expansion. The proximity of Albert Whitted Airport to our campus does not allow for expansion because first we have strict regulations that severely limit the height of our buildings, and second we are unable to expand to the east because of airport property. Our alternative would be for Albert Whitted Airport to only use the north-south runway. The campus would not be in nearly as much danger, and we could conceivably expand upward.

Another concern is the inability to conduct campus business without the interference of air traffic noise. Classroom instruction is regularly disrupted. The traffic affects the majority of classes held in Bayboro, Coquina and Davis halls. In addition to the interference with class instruction, every time an airplane or jet passes overhead, all conversation ceases. These are not just minor interruptions; they are a daily hindrance to campus life.

We realize these are difficult questions to answer. However, we feel they are imperative to the continued success of the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. All we are asking for is the opportunity for discussion on these and other topics involving the future of Albert Whitted Airport.

Bobby Koonce, president, Cassandra Hawkins, secretary,

Student Government, USF-St. Petersburg

Decisions will shape city's future

Re: USF's interest in neighboring airport, Nov. 7.

Bill Heller gave us several valuable reminders about the planned expansion of the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg his Nov. 7 letter. Not the least of these is the proximity of Albert Whitted Airport _ and indeed several major public facilities _ to the campus. We support the burgeoning role of USF in our downtown community, and the Downtown Partnership has made several major investments over the years to stimulate that role. More are planned.

The larger question is the proper use of not only the airport, but also the cruise port, Bayfront Center, and other city facilities downtown. It is in that context that the City Council has been conducting a series of workshops to understand the complexity of these issues, their varied constituencies, and the city's own role in using its facilities to continue one of the most remarkable urban rebirths in the country over the last 20 years. One of those recent workshops featured testimony from Bill Heller and myself. Lots of ground was covered, and I believe the city administration and City Council fully understand that their decisions about the use of these valuable assets will set the image of our city for generations to come.

After all, the policies set 100 years ago by imaginative leaders now allow us to boast the most beautiful downtown waterfront setting in North America. Among the many points of agreement is one essential factor that the St. Petersburg Times has reported as well as editorialized about: All options must be identified, weighed carefully, and we must take into account the ways that the world will see our community, and the way that we see ourselves, for the next hundred years.

The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership will continue to work to keep this important dialogue on the highest possible plane, and we welcome our role in supporting the city as well as key downtown stakeholders such as USF-St. Petersburg in further consideration of the downtown waterfront.

Don Shea, executive vice president, St. Petersburg

Downtown Partnership

FAA safety system is separate

Re: FAA's conflict, letters, Nov. 4.

The media often refer to assumed conflict of interest within the Federal Aviation Administration because of its requirement to establish and enforce safety standards and to promote aviation. I worked in the aviation safety side of the FAA for more than 20 years.

The FAA promotes aviation through things like grants to build and improve airports and facilities, build and operate navigation systems and establish and operate the air traffic control system. The FAA aviation safety system is separate and has nothing in its mandates to promote aviation, only safety.

I have worked with all facets of this safety system, i.e., airworthiness of all aircraft in the civil aircraft system, air carrier operations and maintenance, and general aircraft operations and maintenance. I have never experienced a situation where promoting aviation was a factor. Many airlines have been fined, and some stopped from operating due to violations. Some manufacturers of aircraft have been stopped from selling unsafe aircraft, and many have been forced to fix safety problems.

The FAA safety employees I have known and talked to never considered any factor except safety in performing their duties. The factor I have experienced that is not in the interest of safety is congressional interference in our normal safety activities. Sometimes on complaints of powerful constituents, we have been blocked from carrying out our jobs. The Douglas DC-10 is an example that finally resulted in congressional hearings, following a tragic accident in France. A recent example is the senator who blocked the publishing of the Department of Transportation's Ford Explorer rollover data. The heads of the DOT and the FAA are political appointees. The congressmen have control over our budget.

Aviation safety has continued to improve through the efforts of dedicated employees.

Dennis Tuck, Palm Harbor

Get school basics down first

Re: Parents' choice? Focus on math, Oct. 31.

The writer seems to have done a good job of reporting on the Pinellas school survey. Now we must ask: How can the wishes of the parents be met?

The parents see learning math, science and engineering as a way to provide a good living and a prestige career for their kids. Who could argue with that? However, becoming an engineer or a scientist requires a devotion to study, including many fundamental and drudge courses with no seeming connection to the ultimate goal.

So where do we start? We must start at the elementary school level.

Fundamentals, basics, drill, practice, drill. It's nice to call it math, but plain old arithmetic is still good for learning basic computational skills. Having taught high school math in Pinellas County, I found it discouraging to see many kids (I hesitate to call them students) adding 7 plus 9 by counting on their fingers. Subtraction, multiplication, division were even worse. And fractions: Forget it. Many of these kids were pushed along by some magical process called "social promotion," without ever learning the basics of reading and arithmetic.

If elementary teachers were given the tools, without all the distractions, and if parents would support the teachers, most of the children could and would learn the most important of all courses, reading. Without reading, almost all progress is a struggle, and the higher one goes in the academic world, the more reading is required.

Yes, reading is very important even in math. And any of the science careers involve a vast amount of reading along with math skills.

There is no reason every elementary school, thus one nearest home, can't do a good job teaching the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic if given the chance to do so without the distraction of other fun but not vital programs, and without constant testing by outsiders. Let the responsibility for teaching be on the teacher, but let the responsibility for learning be on the students and their parents.

With the basics learned solidly in elementary school, what a difference this would make for the child in middle and high school. Then the goal of a career in engineering or science or any of the wonderful opportunities would be attainable.

Robert DeGroot, Indian Shores

Strategies improve learning

Re: What parents want, letter, Nov. 7.

I am sorry so many people in Pinellas County are so uninformed about Classroom Learning Systems, Kagan Strategies and the Baldridge Award. Contrary to the letter writer's, opinion, all three of these facilitate the learning of reading, writing, math, etc.

What educators found out almost a decade ago was that we have to prepare students for jobs that do not currently exist. The county and many other educators have decided that the best way to do this is to make students self-starters, group members and independent learners. If they possess these qualities, they should be successful no matter what they do in life.

County officials are not concerned about winning the Baldridge Award. They want the feedback letter they will receive to help improve our school system. Teachers who use CLS and Kagan find their discipline problems decrease and student motivation and sense of ownership toward their school work increase.

Paul (Danny) Bigham, St. Petersburg

Grateful for McKay Scholarship

Re: McKay's "bad apple"? editorial, Oct. 29.

All I can say is: Thank God for the McKay Scholarship. I will support it and continue to support it with everything I have. My son is improving greatly in his academics, manner and all-around being due to the fact that he is under the scholarship.

I feel that the information in this absurd article is inaccurate and want you know there are thousands and thousands who support the scholarship and are so grateful that it exists.

Anthony Pastore, New Port Richey

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