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Tuesday's annual question-and-answer session continues a three-decade tradition.
Published Feb. 4, 2008

Why can't school nurses dispense aspirin?

Why don't school lunchrooms offer vegetarian choices?

Why are there economic disparities among schools?

Such was the range of questions posed to Hillsborough County School Board members Tuesday during the school district's annual student forum.

It's a tradition the School Board has been practicing for three decades thanks to its originator, former School Board member Cecil Essrig.

Essrig, who was in the audience, was asked if she realized she had created an institution.

"I never thought about it one way or the other," Essrig said. "But I'm glad you're all here."

Student representatives from the county's 25 high schools, as well as its South County Career Center and Citizens Advisory Committee, gathered in the school system's administrative building to question School Board members for two hours.

They answered what they could and promised to address the rest soon.

Some questions were easy.

"I love technology," School Board member April Griffin said in response to why students can't use their cell phones during lunch. "But it offers new challenges."

Among those challenges, Griffin said, is the potential for cheating on tests.

Some questions had an edge.

"Why is the cost of cafeteria lunches increasing while the quality is decreasing?" Blake High School's Vittorio Ottanelli wanted to know.

The answer to Ottanelli's question, the last of the afternoon, was lost amid a round of applause from some of the principals and supervisors seated at the back of the room.

Some questions evoked frustration from School Board members, who said they are often thwarted by state mandates and budget cuts.

"We lost $1-million for nurses and $9-million for other projects," said board member Candy Olson. "We're trying to get it back."

Some questions prompted praise.

"You know your generation is criticized for being self-centered and self-serving, but you're anything but that," said board member Doretha Edgecomb. "You've asked questions affecting beyond yourselves and talked about issues now and in the future."

Afterward, many of the students said it was a good exchange.

"I learned a lot about my most important question, and that's why there's never money for older schools," said Leto High's Marian Dam. "They want to able to make improvements, but they can't if it's not in the budget."

Jackie Ripley can be reached at or at (813) 269-5308.