Spelling champ, USF succeeds and tropical system already? | Editorial
A roundup of highs and lows across the Tampa Bay area,
Dev Shah, 14, from Largo, reacts to winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Dev Shah, 14, from Largo, reacts to winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee. [ NATHAN HOWARD | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published June 3

Largo’s spelling champ. How do you spell winner? D-e-v S-h-a-h. The Pinellas County eighth grader made it through six rounds Thursday night to become Florida’s first National Spelling Bee winner since 1999. Dev Shah, who attends Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo, beat 10 other spellers to take the title, which carries a $50,000 grand prize. He won with the word “psammophile,” which means an organism that prefers or thrives in sandy soil. Shah, 14, needed a moment to collect himself before nailing the word correctly. As Friday dawned, the rising Largo High School freshman reflected on his accomplishment — and on the winner’s circuit that was about to begin, including a White House visit, an appearance on “Live With Kelly & Mark” and a chance to ring the closing bell on the NASDAQ exchange. “It feels surreal, but at the same time it’s important. They’re great opportunities,” Shah said. “The main thing is just knowing I accomplished something I worked hard for.” What a spectacular achievement and life lesson.

Kenneth City chaos. What’d the people of Kenneth City ever do to deserve such a dysfunctional local government? That’s the question after reading the Times’ Jack Evans’ account of turmoil in this central Pinellas city. When fully staffed, the city employs just seven people outside its 14-person police department. But since early 2021, Kenneth City has had six town managers, at least three clerks, three police chiefs and three town attorneys. And for most of the past year, town hall was staffed by a consulting firm that cost Kenneth City hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. The town council abruptly cleaned house again in April, firing the consulting firm and leaving most jobs empty. Last month, council members appointed an interim town manager; the town has not had a permanent manager in almost a year, and it has not started the process to find one. The new interim manager, Lacy LaFave, said she has yet to determine how much Kenneth City owes in unpaid bills, and she doesn’t know much money the town has in reserves. A Times reporter visited town hall twice in the past two weeks during business hours. Both times, doors were locked. This is ridiculous. A convenience store couldn’t operate this way. Residents deserve a city government — not student government. Is it beyond time to consider consolidation?

USF reaches top. It took hard work by many people over a long time, but the University of South Florida achieved a coveted goal this week by joining the invitation-only Association of American Universities. With the distinction, USF becomes only the second public school in the state (alongside the flagship University of Florida) to join the 71-member association of top-tier research schools. Invitations are extended based on many factors, including graduation rates, research activity, faculty excellence and the number of low-income students receiving federal Pell grants. Joining the ranks will enable USF to grow its research profile and better attract world-class faculty and students. “This is a historic and momentous achievement for USF,” university President Rhea Law said in a statement, which noted that researchers at association-affiliated schools perform about two-thirds of all federally funded research. Faculty Senate President Jenifer Jasinski Schneider said the announcement was a shot in the arm, given the low faculty morale over the meddling by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-led Legislature to stifle campus speech and to make it easier to oust tenured faculty. “This is not something that happens overnight,” Jasinski Schneider said. “There’s nothing broken here.’”

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Storm season already. That didn’t take long. Forecasters upgraded a blob of rough weather in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday to a tropical depression — this on the very first day of hurricane season. Tropical Depression 2 became Tropical Storm Arlene on Friday but is expected to fizzle today as it starts slumping to the south. But it’s an early reminder of what tropical systems can do. Forecasters were still monitoring the system Friday and warned it could gain strength as it moved sluggishly south. Consider this a drill. And why not restock that hurricane kit this weekend?

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.