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    College puts its message on TV

    St. Petersburg College moves its anti-Amendment 9 message to TV and says reducing class sizes will hurt publicly funded state colleges.

    By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 26, 2002


    St. Petersburg College is taking another swipe at the class size amendment.

    First, it was word in your mailbox. Now, it's on your television.

    Starting next week, cable viewers will see short, anti-Amendment 9 commercials paid for by the college.

    The ads, which will only be played on Time Warner Cable channels like Bay News 9 and MSNBC, are designed to encourage viewers to vote against Amendment 9, which would reduce the number of students per class in Florida's elementary and high schools.

    Several institutions of higher education feel that if the amendment passes, the money used to reduce class size will pinch the budgets of publicly funded state colleges.

    SPC thinks that school crowding is only a third of the problem and the college has a right to protect itself, said Carl Kuttler, president of the college.

    "This could impact our future . . . ," Kuttler said. "We have to speak out. We have a moral duty to speak out."

    Last week, SPC's board of trustees voted to spend $50,000 on anti-Amendment 9 mailers that would go to registered voters in Pinellas County. The board said that it is not against improving public education, but that there might be better ways to do it besides altering the state constitution.

    Since then, the board decided to reduce the number of mailers sent and use the leftover money to help create a television ad. An additional $6,000 will be pegged on to help finance the purchase of the cable television time, bringing the SPC's total anti-Amendment 9 budget to about $56,000.

    The ad likely will consist of information presented on screen with a voiceover detailing why the college feels Amendment 9 is not the best solution for school crowding, Kuttler said.

    Kuttler will not be in the ad.

    Though the college is primarily financed by public funds, the money for the mailers and the commercial are coming from a private source: vending machine money.

    Florida's Coalition to Reduce Class Size, a group that promotes Amendment 9, questions the expenditure.

    "Even if it is Coke machine money, this is a misuse of public funds," said coalition spokesman Damien Filer. "It's amazing, we can't find the money to reduce class size, but when it comes to opposing this effort, somehow they can always find the money somewhere."

    Five people sit on the board of trustees. All of them were appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush , who, like many Republicans, is against Amendment 9.

    Kuttler maintains that the college's treatment of and view toward the amendment is not political.

    "I didn't relish doing this, I'd rather be out doing other things, but, my goodness, it impacts us," Kuttler said. "I am not signing up with anybody in politics. The college doesn't get involved in the politics. This impacts our future. . ."

    -- Staff writer Steve Hegarty contributed to this report. Adrienne Samuels can be reached at 445-4157 or samuels@sptimes.com

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