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SAFETY CENTRAL TO SCHOOL BUS ROUTE CHANGE

Bus cutbacks put students in harm's way in Winauma and bus stop cuts hit hard at rural school - July 25, Editorial and Bill Maxwell Column

Your editorial and column on July 25 called on the Hillsborough County school district to be sensitive when designing bus schedules for children in the Wimauma area. I agree. But your chastisements were premature. And your suggestion that we are somehow singling out Wimauma makes it clear that you aren't aware of the larger context.

The Wimauma area is part of a large-scale redesign of our transportation operations. We are starting our redesign in the southeast part of Hillsborough County in the coming school year. Our system is full of inefficiencies that result in hardships for families and unnecessary costs for taxpayers. We owe it to the public to improve. The goals are to keep children safe, get them to school on time, and to make our system more efficient. All three goals are important, but the first priority is to keep children safe.

The state of Florida decided long ago that it will not pay to transport children who live within 2 miles of a school. In most cases, it is a sensible rule because many children can walk or ride a bike to school. But in some areas, it simply is not safe to have children walk to school regardless of the distance.

The area around Wimauma Elementary may be one of those areas. Traffic and the absence of sidewalks present real problems. We have several tools to work with. Crossing guards and flashing lights improve safety. Parents or school volunteers can escort children. We can open school early so parents can drop off their children before work. We must move past the notion that the first and only option is to send in another school bus. That is how we ended up with an inefficient transportation system and late school buses.

Which solution is right for Wimauma? We'll work with parents to craft the solution, just as we will work with parents in other communities.

We have a good system, but we need to make it better. Most importantly, we have an excellent safety record. We intend to keep it that way.

MaryEllen Elia, superintendent, Hillsborough County schools, Tampa

Bus stop cuts hit hard at rural school - July 25, Bill Maxwell column

Where's the outrage?

I expected to see many letters of outrage aimed at the Hillsborough County school system after reading about its treatment of Wimauma children in Bill Maxwell's column.

True, these students do not brave ice and snow to get to school each day, but, walking 2 miles in 90 degree weather and having to cross a major road (State Road 674) does not sound like a very good idea to me.

As a public service it would be wonderful if this newspaper printed the list of School Board members and how to reach each of them.

Betty Sarlin, Sun City Center

County officials to the people: Shut up - July 28, Sue Carlton column

Limits on speakers are undemocratic

Thank you, Sue Carlton, for telling it like it is. Far too many citizens who stand up to speak before the Hillsborough County Commission are cut off before they can make their points known. A one-minute time limit is simply undemocratic and a waste of everyone's time. The three-minute time limit is still not enough time. Five minutes - while in some cases still not enough time - would be more democratic.

The argument against that idea is that meetings would last all day and night. I say, "So what." Don't those officials get paid to listen?

The way it is now, the various divisions of government maintain control over the people. United we stand, divided we fall.

Ned Webter, St. Petersburg

Paying for pettiness and A shameful waste - July 24, letters

Burke followed rules

These letters objected to Pinellas County Circuit Court Clerk Ken Burke's second appeal of a lower court decision that he should have returned Dennis Esposito's $50 case-reopening fee. They have no doubt conjured up mental images of Burke sitting Ebenezer Scrooge-like on Christmas Eve lovingly caressing various stacks of $50 bills while the snow falls outside and Tiny Tim waits at home for his father to return.

That would, of course, be wrong.

The Florida Legislature sets the fees and requirements for civil cases and actions in the state and requires every clerk of the court in every district to follow those laws. Burke isn't acting like some Simon Legree squeezing money out of the county's poor. He's following the law.

Two lower courts have ruled that the $50 fee should be returned, which is in apparent opposition to the Legislature's requirements. Burke has no choice but to appeal all the way to the top, in order to clarify with finality what is constitutional.

I imagine Burke would willingly hand Esposito a President Grant out of his own wallet to make this go away, but his responsibility disallows any solution other than the one he is required to follow.

Randy Hall, Largo

Factor in population

Gov. Charlie Crist's taking on global warming, as it is being contributed to by Florida's power plants, automobiles and consumption levels, is truly admirable. To all those folks who raised his consciousness on the issue, we owe much gratitude.

The glaring omission in the discussions, both at the Miami summit and elsewhere, is the need to limit population here in Florida and in the United States. The more people the more demands for power and fuel, not to mention the drain on our aquifers.

I urge forward-thinking leaders like Gov. Crist to keep population growth in the strategies being mapped for Florida. With more than 18-million people here now, we need tighter controls on land- use changes that invite more and more folks to reside here.

Joyce Tarnow, president, Floridians for a Sustainable Population (www.flsuspop.org), Cross City

Merchant shoots robbery suspect July 4, story

Too quick to judge

After rereading this news article, I have a few observations.

I was Clifford Darden's ninth-grade English teacher in 1973. The young man that I knew was kind and bright and had a great sense of humor. He began college and then went to Italy to play professional basketball. Which of us knows what happened in his environment to lead to the situation where he is accused of taking a small amount of money without injury to anyone but himself?

Did Clifford deserve, as an eyewitness and neighbor of the store described to a reporter, to be hurt by a shop owner who was "shooting him as he was running after him," a shop owner who told police that he and Clifford ended up "on the grass between two parked cars"?

As Atticus Finch said to his daughter in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, you should never judge a man "until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Linda Zelenak, Hudson

Europe, U.S. seal traveler data deal July 27, story

A privacy threat

How is information about political affiliations, union membership, religion, sexual orientation, etc., supplied by "routine questioning" of airplane passengers? How does any of this relate to security threats?

I'm not surprised that privacy groups are worried about this; I am, too. I recommend this article for reading by anyone who doesn't want a synopsis of their life for review by the airlines they travel with.

Kathryn Dorn, Tampa

What's in a name? For this boy it's a flying problem - July 25, story

Under suspicion

Your Dateline Florida item about the 7-year-old on the no-fly list cleared up some of the problems that I have experienced over the past few years. I always book my flights online, but when I try to check in online, I am unable to do so. When trying to use curbside check-in, they say I must go to the counter. Every time I fly, I find a little TSA form telling me my bag has been searched. I know they do random checking, but what are the odds?

I realize I have a very common name, (there are four of us in Spring Hill that I know of), and it would seem absurd that all of us would be on the no-fly list. Personally, I would think the fact that when in the service, I was assigned to the National Security Agency with a Top Secret/Crypto Clearance would put me above suspicion.

Welcome to the Land of the Free. 1/20/09 can't come soon enough.

Michael Martin, Spring Hill

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