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‘Dammit Dana’: Janet Cruz slams Dana Young over lead in schools

“Dammit Dana, it’s not about politics,” the normally soft-spoken Cruz rails in a Facebook video. “It’s about our children.”
Mitchell Elementary School had one of the highest lead results, the district said. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]
Published Aug. 13, 2018

Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa is mad about inadequate air conditioning and lead in drinking water in public schools, and she wants you to know that she blames her opponent in one of the state's toughest state Senate races, Sen. Dana Young.

"Dammit Dana, it's not about politics," the normally soft-spoken Cruz rails in a Facebook video. "It's about our children."

Cruz, a Democrat, is challenging Republican Young in what may be the state's most competitive state Senate race, where a win could bring Democrats closer to the majority Republicans than they've been in decades.

Cruz blames Young for inadequate school funding in state budgets passed by the Legislature's GOP majority, and specifically a cut of around $1.3 billion in public K-12 education in 2011, when Young was in the House.

"My opponent voted for a $1.3 billion gutting of public schools … Today we have lead in public schools, and I ask you, whose fault is that?" Cruz said to a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce forum Aug. 8.

Young campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom responded, "The fact is Janet Cruz voted for the education budget the past two years; and the budget cuts she is referring to from 2011 have been all restored beyond what was cut.

"The Legislature does not control these issues; the Democrat-controlled school board does," Bascom said. "Janet Cruz is all about playing politics."

Most Democrats in the state House voted for the state budget during the regular legislative session last spring, when it must be passed, but Cruz and other Democrats then called unsuccessfully for a special session to increase public education funding.

"Democrats have to work around" the GOP majority, which has "absolute control over the budget and everything else," said Cruz spokesman Kevin Cate. "Janet Cruz fought tooth and nail for more education funding."

Cruz taped her Facebook video in front of Coleman Middle School in South Tampa, which she said opened last year without air conditioning. She said Young and other Republicans diverted money to "corporate schools," or charter schools run by for-profit companies, instead of traditional public schools. The (vertical) video can be seen here. 

Hillsborough school officials have cited budget constraints and state funding levels as they struggle to keep up with needed maintenance and replacement for school air conditioning systems, and to test and replace drinking fountains and kitchen sinks in older schools where the water has been found to contain unsafe lead levels.

The district spent $34 million on 10 school air conditioning systems over the summer but says 40 more need work at a cost of $3 million to $12 million each.

Hillsborough school Superintendent Jeff Eakins says the district isn't getting enough state money for the job, citing national studies that rank Florida near the bottom in school funding, but Republicans lawmakers say the amount they budget is adequate.