1. Opinion

A hometown politician pushes for what fellow lawmakers didn't: clean water for kids

Florida Sen. Janet Cruz couldn't get lawmakers to agree to lead filters for water fountains like the one at this Tampa elementary school. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times (2018)]
Published Jun. 22

This is a story of a small but significant measure that failed to pass in the Florida Legislature — oh, you've heard that one before? — and how the job might get done anyway for kids in public schools.

Senate bill 66 seemed so straightforward, so both-sides-of-the-aisle, you'd think even that polarized pack in of politicians in Tallahassee could get behind it.

Following news about concerns of lead in the drinking water in our schools, Sen. Janet Cruz put forward a bill to get filters installed in drinking fountains built before 1986 with lead pipes and the possibility of some amount of lead in the water.

It should be said that water fountains are used with great enthusiasm in schools in our particularly sweltering state.

A no-brainer on behalf of young students, right?

But the bill died anyway.

Why? An analysis found the cost of doing this statewide to be "indeterminate." A later estimate had the price tag at $11.7 million, a number Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, politely calls "incorrect."

"I came home frustrated I couldn't get this bill passed," she said. "I thought, 'If you guys can't determine the fiscal (cost), then I will. And I'll do a pilot program in Hillsborough," her home county.

She found a company. Filters could be simply installed by school maintenance staff for as low as $20 each, she said, and would need to be replaced only once a year.

As evidence, Alachua County was already doing this at a modest cost.

So Cruz has a summer job of sorts, trying to privately raise $250,000 through a non-profit to get filters installed in Hillsborough's 136 pre-1986 schools.

"Get The Lead Out," the fledgling campaign is called, which if you think about it could also speak to her colleagues in Tallahassee. She still plans to re-introduce a bill next session on behalf of the estimated 1,746 older schools statewide.

Already, Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister and his wife have committed $25,000.

"I think it's that important," the sheriff says. "Is there any acceptable level (of lead in the drinking water)? There isn't any to me." Cruz is also planning a campaign for folks who want to contribute even $20.

So do you remember that vintage bumper sticker about how it would be nice if schools had the money to buy everything they needed while the government had to hold bake sales to buy bombers? And here we are still.

You hear stories of parents pitching in to buy portable air conditioners for classrooms, of more affluent schools adopting those less so. The PTA at South Tampa's Roosevelt Elementary raised enough money to replace the school's water fountains in the interest of clean drinking water for the kids and now budgets enough to replace the filters yearly.

Kim Klace, former president of the Roosevelt PTA, told me yes, it's frustrating when government doesn't fund what citizens pay taxes for, more frustrating how abysmally Florida ranks in education spending.

"Some of us in our socio-economic situation, we can supplement" what schools need, she says. But what about the ones that can't?

Cruz said her campaign is no slight to school districts, which are "doing the best they can with what they have."

"How long do we continue to let our kids sip from these water fountains when it's a simple fix?" she says, a good question for the next session.

Contact Sue Carlton at


  1. Hernando County community news Tara McCarty
    Letters to the editor from Hernando County
  2. Eugene Robinson File photo
    Racist attitudes lead to tragic outcomes. | Eugene Robinson
  3. Yesterday• Opinion
    Editorial cartoon for Tuesday CLAY BENNETT  |  Chattanooga Times Free Press
    From Times wire services
  4. City Council Member Ed Montanari with a campaign flyer attacking him from the Florida Democratic Party SCOTT KEELER; MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s letters to the editor.
  5. University of Florida researchers hold a 15-foot Burmese python captured in Everglades National Park in 2009. The python had just eaten a 6-foot alligator.
    The Trump administration foolishly shuts down efforts to fight invasive species. Total savings: $30,000.
  6. Mac Stipanovich STEVE CONTORNO  |  Special to the Times
    He becomes the education governor with his plan to raise minimum teacher salaries even if the Legislature takes a different path, columnist Mac Stipanovich writes.
  7. Pasco County community news TMCCARTY80  |  Tara McCarty
    Letters to the editor from Pasco County
  8. [Times files]
    Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.
  9. President Donald Trump applauds the crowd prior to his address at a campaign rally Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Minneapolis. JIM MONE  |  AP
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s letters to the editor.
  10. President Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci); Transcript of Trump conversation with Ukraine's newly elected president Volodymyr Zelenskiy (AP Photo/Wayne Partlow) Associated Press
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.