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    Metro week in review

    By Times staff writers
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 21, 2002


    Hillsborough is sweet on soda deal

    TAMPA -- The Hillsborough School Board agreed to create another Pepsi generation last week when it authorized administrators to finish negotiating a $50-million contract that would give the soft-drink giant exclusive access to the county's schoolchildren while they are at school.

    The school district would get $7-million up front, plus money for scholarships and free computers for high-scoring schools.

    Not everyone was impressed with Pepsi's largesse. Melissa Hernandez, a substitute teacher, said the contract would turn students into walking advertisements.

    "I think it's a poor idea to exploit our children for profit," Hernandez said. "If we continue at this pace, we'll be serving Budweiser to our children because it turns a profit."

    Some opponents also complained that soft drinks are an unhealthy product for the school system to endorse.

    Superintendent Earl Lennard said soda is not the only product that will be available. Vending machines will include water, juice and sports drinks.

    In the past six years, about 250 U.S. school districts, including Pasco and Hernando, have signed marketing deals with soft drink companies. Principals strike their own deals in Pinellas and Citrus schools.

    With peril all around, turtles start trek

    CLEARWATER -- Seventy-five of the world's rarest sea turtles hatched from Sand Key beach sands Thursday, waddled 40 yards to the gulf waters and started swimming. They start a long journey filled with danger that many won't survive.

    They'll be gobbled up by fish, caught in nets or poached for their meat and shells.

    As they turn those hard, frail backs away from the white sands and the blue Panama Jack umbrella No. 47 under which they were raised, the rarest turtles leave behind turtle lovers such as Clearwater Marine Aquarium biologist Glenn Harman. He played surrogate dad for the 2-inch long hatchlings during their 60-day metamorphosis.

    Though many of the 75 born won't survive, the ones that do will help the struggling population of Kemp's ridley turtles worldwide. Harman said there are only about 500 active female turtles left in the world.

    Kemp's ridley turtles mainly nest on the beaches of Mexico -- during the daytime and in large numbers -- but a few usually stray to the coast of Florida.

    Poll finds most support extending parkway in Citrus

    LECANTO -- Nearly 60 percent of the Citrus County residents questioned in a recent poll said they would support the proposed extension of the Suncoast Parkway through their county.

    With some environmental groups trying to stop the road's construction, the Florida Turnpike Enterprise commissioned the poll as part of its three-year study on whether to extend the toll road.

    Only 14 percent said they opposed the road, while 27 percent were undecided or had no opinion. The results alone will not determine whether the 26-mile extension is built, but turnpike officials hope the poll helps answer the question about what Citrus County residents think of it.

    Transportation planners will also look at traffic trends, environmental impact and economic feasibility, among other issues.

    Janet Masaoy, chairwoman of COST, or Citizens Opposed to the Suncoast Tollway, said some of the people who support the road are newcomers who are not aware of the road's potential impact on the environment, local taxes and the quality of life.

    Pasco will hear pitches for tennis stadium

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- After a delay of more than six months, Pasco County has issued a call for a company to build and manage a tennis stadium using millions of dollars from the county's hotel room tax.

    The idea comes from Saddlebrook Resort owner Tom Dempsey, who last year proposed building a stadium with $5.7-million stockpiled from a 2 percent tax on hotel rooms since 1991.

    Dempsey initially drummed up enthusiasm by promising the stadium would be self-sufficient and would showcase the county for an international tennis audience.

    Only later did questions arise about extra tennis tournament fees that in other cities cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nor did the $5.7-million necessarily cover the price of roads and land for the stadium.

    Although a majority of the five-member County Commission appears lukewarm about tennis, commissioners nevertheless agreed last year to hear proposals.

    The document reflects commissioners' wariness about hidden stadium costs. One condition stresses that the stadium be "managed in a manner that does not require additional investment or operating funds."

    Campus paper will wean itself from USF funds

    TAMPA -- Student journalists at the University of South Florida say they are ready for the freedom of the press that comes with paying their own way.

    After more than 35 years of publication, the Oracle, USF's on-campus student newspaper, is making a push for financial independence.

    Like student-run papers at the universities of Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, it will soon stop receiving funds from USF's student government.

    "Editors have talked about it over the years, and we just thought the timing was right," said Jay Lawrence, the Oracle's faculty adviser. "I think it's always best to be independent, to be beholden to nobody, to be self-sufficient."

    The Oracle is one of the largest student newspapers in the Southeast. It wins numerous awards, and in 1990, the Society of Professional Journalists proclaimed it the best daily college newspaper.

    Most of the Oracle's expenses are paid from advertising sales, which last year totaled about $700,000, but about 15 to 20 percent of the annual operating budget comes from activity and service funds from student government.

    In an agreement with the student government, the Oracle in 2002 will receive $159,000, followed by $106,000 in 2003 and $53,000 in 2004. By 2005, the paper will receive no student funding.

    In short . . .

    HERNANDO -- U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman has proposed naming the post office building in the town of Hernando after Ted Williams. The former Boston Red Sox slugger died July 5 at Citrus Memorial Hospital. He lived in Citrus Hills and served as pitchman for that central Citrus development.

    TAMPA -- Tampa General Hospital last week touted the success of its first lung transplant in a 35-year smoker who now has two new lungs. Only three other hospitals in Florida offer such transplants. For now, the goal at TGH is to accomplish 10 lung transfers a year, the minimum number required before Medicare is willing to pay for the operations at any given hospital.

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- For the first time, Pasco-Hernando Community College's west campus will offer day care for its students, a move aimed at stopping the loss of students to colleges that offer such programs. The Board of Trustees approved a preliminary contract with a Tennessee-based day care provider to run a center for up to 104 children. It would open in August 2003.

    Coming up this week

    The Citrus County School Board will take up the issue of buying wet-bulb thermometers Tuesday to help coaches decide when it's time to call for a water break on hot days. Parents have prodded the School Board with $700 to spend on the devices, saying they could save the life of a dehydrated student.

    A proposed fix for complaints about a public access channel goes before the Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday. Commissioner Ronda Storms initially directed her ire at a program called The Happy Show, which included closeup footage of female genitalia. State Attorney Mark Ober declined her request to find the show criminally obscene. Storms has said the station is violating its contract with the county by failing to properly police the content of shows. Proposed solutions include putting mature programming on only late at night and with a warning label.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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