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Florida’s highs and lows this week include too much government secrecy and a needed investigation
An expansion of pre-kindergarten education is among the bright spots.
Dylan Cruz-Flores applies glue to collage pieces while attending Diane Thomssen’s VPK class on Tuesday at Dunedin Elementary School. The free 540-hour program runs during the school year and is available at many elementary schools since Pinellas County Schools expanded the program into schools where it had not been offered or used much in the past.
Dylan Cruz-Flores applies glue to collage pieces while attending Diane Thomssen’s VPK class on Tuesday at Dunedin Elementary School. The free 540-hour program runs during the school year and is available at many elementary schools since Pinellas County Schools expanded the program into schools where it had not been offered or used much in the past. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 29

Pinellas expands pre-K. Experts agree: Early childhood education is key to helping students prepare for life. That’s why the Pinellas County School District should be applauded for offering free, full-day prekindergarten classes this year to 26 Pinellas County elementary schools. The district is using federal coronavirus stimulus funds to bring the program to areas where families did not take advantage of half-day pre-K, often because parents could not afford to pick up their children at midday. So not only are more 4- and 5-year-olds being served, but the program is filling a gap for needy families whose children would otherwise fall further behind. The goal of early childhood programs is to put youngsters on sound footing in preparation for kindergarten; these programs are also essential for helping to close the racial gap in achievement over a student’s scholastic career. That includes introducing basic language and math skills, while also socializing young children to be comfortable away from home. About 600 prekindergartners spread across 40 classrooms took advantage of the program, and the district hopes for even higher enrollment in the 2022-23 school year. That application period ends Monday, with late application starting March 21. Visit pcsb.org/early for a list of schools, requirements and information, or call the district’s Early Childhood Education office at 727-588-6513.

Tallahassee smell test. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office announced this week that his chief inspector general is reviewing the handling of a bid-rigging probe at the Florida Department of Education. The move follows a request by state Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, who cited “irregularities” with the department’s procurement process following reporting by the Times/Herald. The Times/Herald story explored how the Department of Education, led by DeSantis appointee Richard Corcoran, was handling a contract for the Jefferson County School District, which is set to resume control over its three schools after years of outside control. To help with the transition, the department wanted to hire a company whose CEO, former Republican state Rep. Trey Traviesa of Tampa, has ties to Corcoran, a former Florida House speaker. But two members of Corcoran’s leadership team and a member of the State Board of Education, to which Corcoran ostensibly answers, created a company that entered a competing bid for the work. This whole episode stinks, and it deserves a more serious examination than what the education department provided. We hope the governor’s office, having taken on this responsibility, will finally provide some clear answers.

Tampa police chief. The city of Tampa has compromised the image of its next police chief before he or she even takes the job. This week, the city hosted an invitation-only event to meet the three finalists for chief. Invitation only? Wasn’t the search process closed enough? Officials defended the move, citing limited space. But there are plenty of venues in Tampa large enough for an open meeting. What’s more, only two finalists showed; interim Chief Ruben “Butch” Delgado had a family emergency. That alone should have prompted the city to reschedule what amounted to a show trial. The insensitivity to public participation is mind boggling. The death of George Floyd in 2020 at the hands of Minneapolis police, and the street protests that erupted across America, including in Tampa, called attention to the broken lines of communication between police and the communities they serve. Tampa also has its own problems, from lingering disputes about the police oversight board to the department’s history of working with landlords to evict problem tenants. It’s ironic that the two finalists who showed, Miami Police Assistant Chief Cherise Giordani Gause and former Tampa Assistant Chief Mary O’Connor, both listed as their priorities improving relationships with the community — the very community that couldn’t get in to meet them. It was a bad move that set a terrible example of where transparency and inclusion figures at City Hall.

Secrecy on campus. The Senate Rules Committee approved a bill this week that would conceal the name and other information of applicants seeking to become a state college or university president. Under Senate Bill 520, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, any personal identifying information of an applicant would be exempt from Florida’s open-government laws, as would any portion of a meeting to vet the applicants. Information about finalists would be available 21 days before an interview or before a selection was made. This is another needless and self-serving attempt to shield government action from public view. Supporters say the current disclosure requirements dissuade potential candidates from applying for fear of alienating their current employers. That’s hogwash, of course; presidents and provosts are expected to advance their careers in academia. That’s how the real world works. Who benefits then from secrecy? Headhunting firms and the university governing boards that hire them. By concealing who applied, headhunters and board members don’t have to fear being second-guessed. It’s a lazy recruiting tool that doesn’t come near satisfying the public necessity required of exempting records in Florida. And it tells would-be presidents that they are not accountable to their campuses and communities. Applicants who can’t deal openly in Florida are the wrong people for the job.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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