tampabay.com

School honors Yankees owner

The School Board names a Lutz high school after George Steinbrenner.

By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 12, 2007


TAMPA - New Yorkers may run hot and cold about Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. But in Tampa, he's only loved.

So much so that the Hillsborough School Board made a spur-of-the-moment decision Tuesday night to christen in his honor the George Steinbrenner High School in Lutz.

The baseball titan was on their minds after the recent Christmas concert that he sponsors annually for Hillsborough students at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

Board member Candy Olson, who brought up the namesake idea, called it just one example of Steinbrenner's generosity. She didn't mention his World Series wins or controversial management style.

She wanted to honor the Steinbrenner who helped to launch middle school athletics in Hillsborough, the philanthropist with a winning record in Tampa Bay.

"You don't often find someone who can be hard-nosed and also that compassionate in giving," said Olson, calling him a great role model.

School officials seemed swayed by recent reports that the 77-year-old Tampa resident's health is failing. Board member Susan Valdes observed, "There's a saying: Bring flowers today, when I can enjoy them."

Normally, the School Board solicits the community for suggestions before naming a school, but it's not a rule. They noted that Steinbrenner's name has been mentioned previously. After a few minutes of discussion, the decision was unanimous.

"I have only one request," Valdes joked, "I hope the school colors are pinstripes."

Steinbrenner overshadowed the School Board's other major action, approving student calendars for 2008-09 and 2009-10. The calendars do not recognize religious holidays with days off school, a decision that has sparked controversy for the past two years.

This time, no one even signed up to speak. Board members were mostly concerned with the need to push back first semester exams until after winter break in 2009-10. They blamed a new state law that left them with little flexibility on the school start date.

They also continued a traditional holiday for most students to attend the Florida State Fair.

In an unusual encounter, a School Board critic confronted chairwoman Jennifer Faliero during the public comment section of the board meeting.

The question came from Lee Drury De Cesare, who lives in Madeira Beach but has set her sights on the Hillsborough school system in a blog that spares few officials in its criticism.

De Cesare said she wanted to bring up a rumor that surfaced recently on local blogs where teachers post anonymously. Faliero stopped her twice, warning that this forum was for school business, not rumors. De Cesare challenged that this was free speech.

"Did you have an affair in the school environment?" asked De Cesare, who previously made news by asking then-Attorney General Charlie Crist if he is gay.

Faliero slammed her gavel.

"You're out of order, step away from the microphone. Right now," she said. "Your remarks are insulting, they're slanderous and they're untruthful."

De Cesare, whose microphone was shut off, left the meeting, which quickly moved to the next speaker and the rest of the agenda.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 813 226-3400. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

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