Mounting school spending and tensions, red tide and Justice Jackson returns | Editorial
A roundup of this week’s high and lows across Tampa Bay and Florida.
Red tide is observed near Pinellas County beaches near Indian Shores during a flight with SouthWings volunteers on March 10.
Red tide is observed near Pinellas County beaches near Indian Shores during a flight with SouthWings volunteers on March 10. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published March 11

Shoot the moon. Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Addison Davis must’ve thought he landed in the bizarro world this week when a School Board meeting about cutting costs turned into a bidding war over more expensive scholastic programs. For months, Davis has sought a consensus on the seven-member board for a student reassignment plan that makes fuller use of existing school facilities. His recommendation to close five under-enrolled schools and transfer thousands of students to new campuses could save the cash-strapped district about $14 million a year. But at a workshop Thursday to find the outlines of a deal, School Board members instead compiled a wish-list of desired enhancements, from more dual-language and child care programs to an expansion of wraparound services. Board Chairperson Nadia Combs, who appears nearly alone on the board in appreciating the district’s financial straits, said the list was like buying “a Lamborghini when we should be ride-sharing.” Other board members said the add-ons were essential for the district to compete with charters and private schools, overlooking the drag that half-empty campuses already have on the budget. Davis, to his credit, is looking to end this exercise and have the board vote on a plan as early as April. Hopefully reality will set in soon, because the district must save before it can spend more on a bureaucracy that’s currently unsustainable.

Read the bill. Students protesting a push by Republican lawmakers in Florida to end diversity efforts in the state’s higher education system heard exactly what they could have hoped for this week from University of South Florida leaders. At a meeting Tuesday of USF’s board of trustees, officials told the protesters they had their backs. “You have been seen, and your voices will be heard,” Board chairperson Will Weatherford told the students. The former Republican state House speaker tried to provide some comfort by noting that this week’s opening of the two-month legislative session marked only the “first inning” of the debate. “We really appreciate the fact that you are here,” added USF President Rhea Law, trying to allay concerns about legislation that would dismantle college diversity initiatives. “We are absolutely committed to fostering an inclusive environment for everyone here at the university,” she said. “We will not back up from that commitment.” That all sounds great, but how do those pledges square with the language of HB 999, which promises exactly the opposite? The whole purpose of the bill is to end diversity and inclusion efforts, restrict race and gender studies and other curriculum and give politically-appointed boards of trustees the power to hire faculty. We hope USF and leaders of other Florida universities take this fight to Tallahassee. Because there’s a huge gap now between these promises and this legislation.

Welcome Spring Breakers. You’re here just in time for the stench and chest-seizing burn of red tide. Over the coming week, half a million Tampa Bay school children will be on spring break. And that doesn’t include thousands of college students or the hordes of others flying and driving into Florida for a week in the warm sand. And they’ll be greeted in every coastal Southwest Florida county by red tide. The beaches from Pinellas south to Monroe counties saw toxic red tide blooms over the past week, as the patchy wave of algae nears its fifth month of life in Gulf of Mexico waters, the Tampa Bay Times reported this week. Tons of fish have been found dead on gulf beaches in recent days, and people with respiratory issues such as coughing and sneezing have reported complaints in all seven Southwest Florida counties. Pinellas County was behind only Sarasota County for the most red tide blooms detected in water samples over the past week, and on Tuesday, organizers cited red tide as the reason for canceling a beachside festival on Indian Rocks Beach scheduled for April 15. And it’s only March, leading many experts to fear that conditions will worsen as temperatures heat up before summer. Sure, red tide has been around the gulf for centuries, and it occurs naturally. But man-made nutrients can exacerbate the blooms once they drift inshore. Leaky septic tanks and wastewater systems, excess fertilizer and urban runoff are problems. Florida needs to get serious about controlling them.

Honoring Justice Jackson. And finally, there was a homecoming of sorts this week for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who returned to South Florida on Monday to celebrate the renaming of a street in her honor in the community where she grew up. During a 40-minute ceremony in Cutler Bay, alongside local dignitaries and her parents, Jackson noted how proud she is to have grown up in this suburb south of Miami, acknowledging the teachers and coaches who helped her on the way. “This is where I got my start, and I really do believe that there is an important connection between my experience growing up in this area and my current position as associate justice,” she said. “It was while I was studying and competing and growing up here in this community that I gained self confidence.” Jackson said she was honored to have her name “so prominently displayed on a street in a community that has given me so much,” and she hoped it would inspire future generations of locals to believe in what was possible for “a person from this neighborhood.” Jackson also rightly couldn’t help noting that she is the first associate justice of the Supreme Court from Florida. That honor is shared by fellow Floridians across the state, who see that Jackson has made the justice system look more like the America it serves.

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 Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.