A real display of community pride. It took some arm-twisting, but the Florida Department of Transportation illuminated the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in rainbow colors for LGBTQ Pride Month, and don’t we all agree it looks beautiful? The DOT initially said no, citing bulbs or paperwork or some other excuse, but reversed course under pressure last month. It’s good to see the region’s iconic bridge project a symbol of self-worth and equity. And the outcome is a testament to public engagement. It reflects the people’s power to get the government to react. Now how about some mass transit?
In Pinellas, expanding voter access. We couldn’t let another week slide without crediting Pinellas County elections supervisor Julie Marcus for announcing that she would add early voting sites for the November 2022 election. The news comes after record high turnout of in-person, early voting during the 2020 presidential election, and follows years of requests by civic activists for Pinellas to expand its number of voting places. The county is planning to add early voting sites in the Countryside and Tyrone/Lealman areas. Officials are also considering relocating a voting site at the St. Petersburg College Allstate Center on 34th Street South to another nearby location. The new sites are targeting areas that have a high turnout of early voters. Pinellas had five in-person early voting sites in the 2020 general election, compared to 26 in Hillsborough and 14 in Pasco. Marcus, a longtime Pinellas elections official who was appointed interim supervisor in 2019 and who won her own term in 2020, is putting her mark on the office. And she is expanding access to the ballot even as state lawmakers restrict voting opportunities.
Now that’s a civics lesson. A welcome U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week could have an impact right here at home. The justices ruled 8-1 Wednesday that a Pennsylvania school district erred by suspending a student who made profane social media statements about campus activities after she failed to make the varsity cheer team. While schools have some room to discipline students for off-campus speech, the majority found, they do not have blanket censorship authority. “America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote. The Pasco County School District should take a cue from the ruling to fix a self-made mistake. A year ago, the Pasco School Board amended its student code of conduct, making students on teams or clubs at risk of punishment for making derogatory online comments while wearing school gear. Board chairman Allen Altman said the restrictions were meant to encourage students to represent their schools in positive ways. But officials added the district would reconsider the measure in light of the court’s ruling. The summer vacation offers an opportunity to update the code so that students, parents and school staff have clarity in advance of the fall semester.
Just show me the money. Florida’s public school classroom teachers and principals are set to receive $1,000 bonuses this year. But educators are worried that Gov. Ron DeSantis is holding up the money because he wants his name associated with the payout. As the Tampa Bay Times reported this week, DeSantis’ administration has taken steps to have the money delivered directly from the state, rather than following the usual process of sending bonus funding to school districts for distribution. The departments of Education and Economic Opportunity are collecting employee data and looking into the logistics of cutting and mailing the checks. But why recreate the wheel? District payroll departments already have every employee’s income and other information on file, and their computer systems are prepared to handle the paperwork. “We’re trying to do that as a direct thank you,” said Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, a DeSantis ally, “so (teachers) know we appreciate the great work they did.” This isn’t DeSantis’ money, or Corcoran’s either. Just send the money to the school districts and let them cut the checks.
Brooksville hero. A belated hat tip to Bobby Read, who wanted to buy a building owned by the city of Brooksville to open a gym, but somehow city officials sold him the city’s water tower, as well. One member of the city council called it a $4 million mistake, and the botched sale cost the city manager his job this week. Read could have made life difficult for the city. Instead, he deeded the water tower back at no cost. Good for him for doing the right thing.
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