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Bonuses boost schools' efforts to succeed

Your Oct. 31 editorial The folly of bonuses during crisis misrepresents my administration's efforts to provide more funding with greater flexibility for Florida's public schools.

You suggest that the $76-million in school bonuses we awarded this year went to schools that would be successful anyway. This is false. Of the 835 schools receiving a bonus this year, 428 have at least 40 percent of their students receiving free or reduced-price lunches _ a federal poverty indicator. These are obviously not schools with the "greatest advantages."

Under the A+ Plan, we have gone from having 74 "F" schools in 1999 to four in 2000, to none this year. These grades are improving because FCAT scores are improving, with minority student gains outpacing those of non-minority students.

School Recognition Bonus funds account for less than two-thirds of 1 percent of the more than $12-billion that Florida spends on the K-12 operating budget; yet clearly the incentive they provide is helping schools achieve success.

It is not the established "A" schools that are leading the way in Florida's educational renaissance, though they, too, get a reward for high performance. Rather, it is those schools that nobody ever expected to succeed that are now meeting and exceeding established standards that are the real story. It's a shame there are those that call to take away the bonuses these schools richly deserve.

Jeb Bush, governor, Tallahassee

An opportunity in Midtown

Re: 22nd Street Business District needs help, by Bill Maxwell, Nov. 7.

For many years now, real progress has been promised by city leaders in the Midtown area of St. Petersburg. So far, we have nothing to show for it. Unfortunately, the tragic events of Sept. 11, and the negative economic impact they have had on our economy will not help matters any.

That being said, we now have a real opportunity to make meaningful changes in Midtown. With Deputy Mayor Goliath David leading the charge, and supportive, new leadership at City Hall, the opportunity for success cannot be overstated. As Bill Maxwell said, all of us have to play a part.

I have spoken to Deputy Mayor Davis on several occasions about the plans for Midtown, and he recently gave our board of governors an overview of his plans. His thoughtful, deliberate approach is cautious and wise. If we want real change, we all have to make a contribution.

I have offered the full support of the chamber in this effort, as it relates to business recruitment and retention. Our business assistance program is a valued partnership we have with the city of St. Petersburg. Under this program we can provide valuable business training through our Entrepreneurial Academy. We can provide guidance and assistance to struggling business through our mentor/protege program. We can provide technical assistance to businesses trying to overcome simple problems such as permitting, to more complex problems that may require us to assemble a team of expert volunteers.

We are ready to help, but Maxwell is right on the mark. If Davis is to succeed, he will need the help of all of us, especially "ordinary Midtown residents."

Terrence E. Brett, chairman, board of governors,

St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce

All of St. Petersburg needs help

Re: 22nd Street Business District needs help.

It is not only 22nd Avenue S but the whole city of St. Petersburg that needs help.

If the city really wanted to do something to spur growth on the south side, why was our governing body so fast to make sure that Wal-Mart did not locate there? It seems to me that this would have brought new life and jobs to an area that the city would like to see just go away. Did anyone notice that when there is a bit of intelligence in government, the leaders are smart enough to bring in new business (re: Pinellas Park).

As to Goliath Davis taking his time, well why should he hurry? As police chief, he was not in any hurry to attempt to rid the area of dope dealers.

It seems we have four mayors all doing nothing, except collecting big, fat pay checks. So why bring in any new business?

Louis Van Roy, St. Petersburg

What if's abound regarding USF

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

As intended, Bill Heller's editorial comments provoked a lot of "what if's?" It was quickly followed by an editorial piece on Nov. 9, highlighting just one side of the issue of the airport versus University of South Florida (An intertwined fate). It is interesting to note that Heller's piece pursuing expansion of USF appears directly opposite a piece by Bill Maxwell highlighting the desperate need for help in the 22nd Street Business District (22nd Street Business District needs help).

Now there's a thought! What if USF expanded into the district so sorely in need of revitalization? Here are a couple more "what if's":

What if USF planners had considered that the airport has been there since 1917 before they decided on a site?

What if USF had considered noise and building height before it planned buildings for that site?

What if USF expansion degraded the city's cosmopolitan character to a "college town"?

What if Bill Heller chose some of the empty fields USF owns on the northwest corner of its property for his building projects instead of at the end of a runway that has been there 85 years?

What if our city became another big-building mecca like Miami Beach?

What if the professionals in the city moved elsewhere and left us with just academia and intellectuals?

What if tourists decided they prefer to see something other than a university (with an alleged terrorist supporter on the faculty) and took their dollars with them?

What if the new and expanding number of good restaurants were replaced by Burger Kings in response to market demand?

What if? But then, I guess you know "what if.

John V. Horsting, St. Petersburg

City will regret losing Whitted

Re: Whitted presents problems for USF, letter,

Nov. 12.

Regarding the issue of the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg campus versus Albert Whitted airport, I believe that the writers, representing the student body, have arguments, that in their respective viewpoints, are very valid. However, as a retired airline captain, I have read many newspapers debating the same issues in towns I've spent time in. The basic complaints of the opponents: noise, safety and needed land use.

Now USF-St. Petersburg wants to expand to a four-year status and increase enrollment, and its leaders want to remove any impediments to their expansion. The airport was there for many decades before the school. They now seek to influence the city fathers to remove a historical place as well as a place the city will regret losing many times over if they decide to reduce the size of Whitted or close it. Many other cities and towns have closed and later reopened airports when they realized their mistakes.

One other item that should be noted is that the city of St. Petersburg has invested federal and city funds of many hundreds of thousands of dollars to build 50 new hangers in the past two years. How will the city recover that lost money? Perhaps raising everyone's taxes might be considered! I hope the leaders of the city, the council and others will seriously consider the ramifications of any closure and all the hidden drawbacks, such as the city's having to reimburse the government for funds allocated to the airport and other consequences that have not been disclosed in the St. Petersburg Times.

Proper development of the airport would allow green-space access to all in the airport boundary, so that we could enjoy the airport and its benefit to the city.

John Gilbert, St. Petersburg

Just close the airport

Thanks again for your Nov. 9 editorial An intertwined fate, which is keeping the Albert Whitted Airport matter before the public. I support doing away with the airport so the city can improve itself with the type of benefits cited in your editorial.

I must disagree with you, however, when you call for further debate on this issue. What is there to debate? This is the classic "no-brainer." On the one hand, we get progress and improvement for the city (not to mention some fiscal relief for the taxpayer) and on the other hand, we get what? No improvement for the city and a continued unnecessary airport that costs taxpayers and benefits a few.

Can we get a referendum on this issue so that residents can vote directly on the issue? I also ask that you continue to keep this issue before the public so that, as your prior editorial suggested (Overlooking airport details, Oct. 28), this does not get decided in some back room by the politicians and their special interests.

David Briggs, St. Petersburg

Flights are a danger to festival

My family and I attended the Rib Fest on Nov. 10 which, due to the great weather, resulted in an extremely large crowd numbering well into the thousands. All day long, right into the evening and nighttime hours, private planes continued to take off from Albert Whitted Airport, flying very low over the crowds before they could turn back over the bay. Any loss of control of one of these planes would probably have resulted in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who were attending the Rib Fest.

The fact that the city allows this airport to operate in that manner during these types of festivities is outrageous, and to allow it during a time of war is totally unconscionable.

I know that the city government is preoccupied right now with passing ordinances to outlaw the feeding of birds, but I would hope that when our leaders are through with that very important matter, they might direct their time and thoughts to Albert Whitted Airport and the risk it creates to citizens of our city, especially during festivities such as Rib Fest.

Larry D. Beltz, St. Petersburg

Thanks for an extraordinary event

I want to express my gratitude, and that of my colleagues at Eckerd College, for bringing the "Times Festival of Reading" to our campus. The countless hours devoted to this labor of love by the staff of the Times, and by so many at the college, produced a simply extraordinary event for the wonderfully literate community of St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay.

I have lived and worked in a half-dozen fine academic communities and have never experienced before such a stunning confluence of writers and readers. This literary event is unparalleled among our nation's colleges and universities, and we are proud of our association with the St. Petersburg Times.

Eckerd College is grateful to the Times and the people of this community for their support of this unique celebration of learning. We eagerly look forward to next year's event.

Donald R. Eastman, president, Eckerd College,

St. Petersburg

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