Letters to the Editors
Slashing funds for intervention is a troubling move
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 12, 2003
I am writing to express my deep concern regarding the governor's proposed budget, which eliminates funding for intervention and prevention programs from the Department of Juvenile Justice allocation. Specifically, this eliminates funding for the PACE Center for Girls, a highly regarded and successful statewide program for at-risk adolescent young girls and women. I am very familiar with the wonderful work this organization is doing, as well as the consistently high quality ratings PACE has received from DJJ. This is the first time this program has not been included in the governor's budget since PACE's expansion into a statewide organization 13 years ago. Not only has PACE proven successful in changing the lives of the young women it serves, but it has become a national model for addressing the needs of girls within the juvenile justice system.
The governor does not view PACE (and other prevention programs) as a core objective of the DJJ. He expects counties to provide funding for these programs, if deemed important. However, running a statewide organization is extremely effective and efficient. Costs are lower, since many administrative functions are handled by the state office. In addition, quality and consistency are ensured, since programs are developed and monitored at the state level. This structure has saved taxpayers thousands of dollars over the years, in addition to the intangibles provided by statewide programming.
I am even more discouraged when I see that the governor's budget has proposed a statewide sales tax holiday for clothing and books. This sales tax holiday is expected to generate about $60-million in savings to Florida residents. This is roughly equivalent to the savings that result from eliminating prevention and intervention programs from DJJ. Will the sales tax saved from the purchase of some underwear, pantyhose, books and pants significantly impact the quality of anyone's life? I would argue no. On the other hand, I know that one by one PACE is having an opportunity to positively change the lives of young women, enabling them to become responsible and productive citizens for a lifetime. I hope all concerned Florida citizens will speak out for the future of our children, particularly those who have so little voice.
Tough choices, sacred cows
Re: Fiscal discipline works to benefit Florida budget, Feb. 1.
Gov. Bush defends his fiscal policy and claims to be "recommending cuts that (he) wished we were not forced to make." Do these include the hundreds of millions of dollars for the so-called "school recognition" program, which gives mostly schools in affluent areas money for high FCAT scores while schools in less-affluent areas get nothing? Does this include the $50,000 per year salary for the newly created PR job that is coming out of the education budget? As a public school teacher in this state, I will never make that. Even if I get my doctorate and teach for 50 years.
Finally, how much of the increased funds he brags about putting in the K-12 budget is going to pay for his ever-expanding, big-government testing program that is lining the pockets of big corporations with lucrative government contracts whose tests and grading practices are held in secrecy? Are his sacred cows off limits in this time of "tough choices"?
It's time to implement Amendment 11
Speaking about the class size amendment recently, Gov. Jeb Bush said, "I intend, in good faith, to work with the Florida Legislature to implement Amendment 9. The people passed the amendment,and we have a constitutional duty to implement it."
Gov. Bush should be reminded that he also has a constitutional duty to implement Amendment 11 dealing with university governance. Unlike the class size amendment, Amendment 11 will save money rather than cost hundreds of millions. Moreover, it was approved by a much larger margin of voters than Amendment 9.
To date, however, the governor and his education lieutenants, Phil Handy and Jim Horne, have taken action which indicates that they intend to thwart the implementation of Amendment 11. Almost 3-million Floridians who voted for the amendment want to see some "good faith" efforts by the governor to implement this vital education amendment.
Education more than a numbers game
So often it is that good intentions and noble aspirations go astray because of lack of voter understanding. Such is the case in the recent referendum on class sizes. The failure of Florida educators to deal knowledgeably with the reality of a population of very disparate learners speaks volumes about their professional limitations.
Hard cold reality lies not in the size of groups, for the most part, but in the nature and status of learners that make up a class. A group of 30 young people without social and/or emotional hang-ups is a joy to a well-qualified teacher. A group of 15, full of hurt, defiance, social frustration and even physical shortcomings is too big a group for any but one well-qualified in behavioral sciences. Not many teachers are educated to deal well with dysfunctional youths. A massive conglomeration of human needs presented in any one group produces a ghastly situation. This is consistently denied and ill-served by so many well-meaning but fundamentally provincial citizens.
What the classrooms of this state desperately need are highly qualified personnel for services way beyond manipulation of numbers.
Mortham could pay bill, indeed
Re: First claim paid: lobbyist's son, Feb. 6.
Oh, the irony! A $10,000 claim paid by a few well-placed phone calls, while others still wait for their claims to be paid.
Sandra Mortham said, "We would have found a way to pay the bill." She could use a small portion of the $100,000 of consulting fees she is getting from the city of Largo with a zero return.
No wonder so many of us think so little of politicians.
Acting for the right reasons
Re: Mortham's special treatment, editorial, Feb. 10.
It is truly a shame that the need to be hateful has become so prevalent in our society. In reading your editorial about me, I found it appalling and hurtful that you would jump to the conclusion that you did.
My son was burned over 40 percent of his body, only to come home to a bill for helicopter service in excess of $10,000. I was appalled knowing that he was covered by the State Group Insurance plan. Surely it had to be wrong.
After reading the insurance policy, I found it to be true. As I told your reporter, I went on a mission to change the provision so no other state employee ever had to face possible financial devastation at such a tragic time. You would think by your editorial that my purpose was singularly to help my son. Guess what? You're wrong.
Yes, my son was notified that his appeal was approved. How would he have ever known that others who had appealed were not approved at the same time? They should have been, but I had no control over that. Can that be my fault, too?
At a time when we all wish for peace, let's consider that people can do many things for the right reasons. The negative side of every story is not the truth.
Dear Johnnie Byrd: Don't call me
I receive too many calls from telemarketers and certainly do not care to be bothered by telemarketers hired by House Speaker Johnnie Byrd to relay prerecorded messages to promote the House. The less I hear of their shenanigans the better off I am. How do I get on their "do not call" list?
Let's get the tax discussion going
Re: Byrd's demagoguery, editorial, Jan. 31.
The editorial was correct in saying there is a long list of hard choices for the 2003 legislative session, and beginning the discussion early in the process is better than waiting for the last couple of weeks of the session.
Any healthy democracy, like ours in Florida, requires an open and honest debate on the issues. In the past, there has been a lot of time wasted in political gamesmanship instead of debating the real issues in Tallahassee. I support the speaker of the House in getting the issue of taxes before the Legislature now so we will have time to debate the issue and hear from Floridians.
As an elected representative, I can confirm that there are many Floridians who do not believe that raising state taxes is the best option. The sooner the House and Senate can agree on that issue, the easier it will be to balance the budget and do what is best for all Floridians.
I, for one, am ready to start the discussion on behalf of my constituents.
A reviewer's responsibility
Thank you for reviewing Bern's Steak House: Reflections & Recipes from a Remarkable Restaurant in your Feb. 5 Taste section. I appreciate the St. Petersburg Times' restaurant critic, Chris Sherman, taking the time to review my book. However, I would like to correct some serious errors in his review.
To begin with, it is evident that Sherman has made only a cursory read of the book. For instance, he says "LaFray had minimal access to the family and the restaurant staff." That remark simply is not true.
I spent numerous hours interviewing key personnel, including Gert and David Laxer and others, as did a contributing writer, Mitch Kaplan. Sherman never queried me nor my associates about these interviews, aside from a hurried five-minute phone call to my office. Many of these interviews, after Bern's auto accident (1993), are taped and are accessible for the asking.
Sherman says "much of the story is told via articles by Jane and Michael Stern." In fact, only a few passages are quoted from these writers. I had many conversations about many subjects with my friend Bern and his lovely wife, Gert.
Sherman says "only a handful" of Bern's recipes were published in the book. That, again, is not true. In fact, 24 of the original recipes from the restaurant are included in the book. David Laxer and his family gave me at least 15 more, but they were not included because they could not be easily prepared in the home kitchen.
Sherman says that I should have told the reader how to "dry-age" steaks at home. Has Sherman ever tried dry-aging? Well, I have, and as I stated, I consider it to be dangerous unless done under very rigid conditions. Since I would not endorse it, there would be no reason to instruct readers. As I said in the book (Sherman seems to have missed that section), Jeffrey Steingarten, food editor of Vogue magazine, feels the same way.
As a food and restaurant reviewer for 30-some years, I feel professionals have the responsibility to get their facts straight, to review a restaurant for what it is, not for what they want it to be. Likewise, I believe that is the way a book reviewer should review books. In order to accomplish this task, the reviewer should read the entire book from start to finish, just as the food critic should sample a goodly portion of the menu on several different occasions.
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