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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001
I have written Governor Bush to ask him to veto House Bill 369, which abolishes the Career Service system.
The impetus of House Bill 369 and Bush's proposal is a trade-off between quality and cost saving. While the cost saving looks attractive at first, as a probation officer I think the state should consider enhancing the Career Service program to retain quality employees as opposed to contracting out the safety of our community to the lowest bidder.
The knowledge capital represented by tenured state workers is an investment that the state of Florida should not dispose of lightly. Career Service represents a social contract between the State of Florida and the essential workers without whom the state machinery could not operate.
Career Service employees are committed to serving the public professionally. Career Service guarantees due process for state workers and provides fair methods for disciplinary actions, as well as promotions. Privatization would result in the replacement of professional workers with high turnover and short-term employees.
Tampering with the Career Service program would cause a demoralization and a disruption in the lives of long-term state workers and consequently disrupt the workings in the state of Florida.
-- Larri Gerson, Dunedin
Thank you for your recent coverage of the progress Florida has achieved in infant and maternal health care services. The Right Start report, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (www.kidscount.org), gives proof positive that investing in health care and education for pregnant women pays bountiful dividends.
Florida's pioneering Healthy Start Coalitions deserve credit for their outstanding efforts to raise awareness of the importance of pre-natal and infant health care. Florida's 32 Healthy Start Coalitions are a public/private partnership success story and deserve to be supported. Unfortunately, there are budget proposals in Tallahassee that would cut Healthy Start's outreach work by $1.5-million.
Cuts to prevention services for children would never heal. We should not try to balance our state's budget with 2-pound babies. Concerned Floridians should call or e-mail Gov. Jeb Bush and their legislators in support of Healthy Start. We don't have a day, or a child, to waste.
-- Jack Levine, Tallahassee
I would like to encourage our legislators to properly fund our public schools.
I am a native Floridian and have had a terrific public education. However, the quality of our public education is declining drastically. I have been a Pasco County School Board employee since 1996 and have definitely had my eyes opened. Our teachers must buy many of their supplies, even having to pay for copies of their students' work sheets. Fortunately, my school, Seven Springs Middle, has excellent equipment and an even better staff. What about schools with higher numbers of poorer students, or schools in poorer counties?
Gov. Jeb Bush instituted the FCAT to improve education, but what it really needs is better funding to hire more teachers and to better provide for its students. It needs fewer slogans and more champions. I urge you to be the champions we need.
-- Deborah J. Shauan, New Port Richey
Nationally, additional funding is being planned for education. Renovations to old schools and construction of new schools are important needs close to our hearts. I hope Tallahassee will follow through with the national agenda and allocate appropriate funding for school repairs and construction.
-- Alberta Beversdorf, Port Richey
Listed below are some valid arguments against the governor's plan to downsize and privatize state government and, more particularly, the Florida Department of Transportation:
1) The starting point for any plan to downsize and then privatize state government should be a determination that the services currently being provided are either no longer needed, or that those services are not being provided effectively or efficiently, or that those services could be produced by another work force at less cost to the taxpayer.
As applied to DOT, none of that has occurred. And none of that is true.
2) Anyone who has worked on both sides of the governmental service-provider spectrum knows there is a vast difference between the value system of governmental institutions and the bottom-line mentality of commercial profit-driven private-venture organizations. Having served in state government for more than 30 years as well as having pursued a short career in the private sector, I have experienced both work environments. I know it to be true.
3) The government cannot abdicate its ultimate responsibility for the outcome of the performance of its mission even when it decides to rely on out-sourced companies, companies that in no way will be as responsive or as dedicated to the success of that outcome as are the in-house folks who have been providing those services effectively and efficiently since that state agency was first created.
4) Florida ranks 47th in the nation for the number of state employees compared to the resident population. Our state workers are leaders in the nation for productivity, and they are also among the lowest-paid state employees in the country.
5) Privatization of the state work force does not save money. That is a costly myth. Most times, it lowers the quality of life for former state employees who lose many of the benefits for which they had been working during their employment with that state agency.
6) The Florida Department of Transportation spent 15 years decentralizing its day-to-day operations to the districts. Now the KPMG study recommends re-centralizing all construction contracting back to the central office in Tallahassee.
7) The DOT is unique from all other state agencies in that the department's staff produces a product that is totally measurable and thereby that staff can be held totally accountable for its performance and resultant accomplishments. And DOT consistently meets its goals and responsibilities.
-- John D. Ellis, Tampa
A first order of business for Florida lawmakers should be to enact legislation that will fully restore the civil rights, especially the ability to vote, of those who have served their time in prison and have paid their debt to society. It is wrong to punish beyond the point of prison.
America needs a momentum of mercy that will enable Americans who have made a mistake to restore themselves to the dignity they deserve based on behavior that conforms to community standards. Denying ex-cons civil rights permanently degrades and stigmatizes them, which fosters resentment and even hatred. We must be tough on criminals but reasonable in their rehabilitation.
Why not integrate individuals who have turned their lives around instead of ostracizing and keeping them disconnected from society at large? Truly, to mistreat the repentant repeatedly is hateful and almost un-American.
-- Robert B. Fleming, St. Petersburg
Your article about Florida's continuing drought was a sharp reminder about the necessity for conserving water. However, I feel that many of your readers would take the whole matter a lot more seriously if those new water-guzzling automatic carwash sites were closed down while there is a water shortage. As these establishments do not employ any on-location staff, virtually no jobs would be lost.
It is difficult to persuade many people to cut back on their personal hygiene by taking fewer showers or baths, or reducing the use of washing machines, when they see others wasting gallons of water just to keep their cars clean.
-- Tony Groom, St. Pete Beach
Webster's definition of independence is "freedom from the influence, control or determination of another or others" and for one to believe, with the current process of selecting judges, the judiciary is truly "independent" defies intellectual acuity.
Today an independent judiciary is anachronistic. History and particularly Bush v. Gore refute the "independence" of the judiciary branch of our American government. The judiciary is the only branch of government not subject to the "will of the people" and the selection of the judiciary without the vote of the people it serves is functionally undemocratic.
-- Russell Lee Johnson, St. Petersburg
Thank you for an excellent article concerning unbridled growth in Florida. Florida's growth reminds me of California's over the last five decades -- out of control.
I keep hearing the same line in the same song when I think about Florida's growth: "They paved over paradise and put up a parking lot." That about says it all. Please don't Californiate or New York City-ate Florida.
-- William Saksefski, St. Petersburg
A friend recently moved back from Puerto Rico, which used to be an island paradise but is now miserably crowded, congested, polluted. The same is true for me, when I visit family in the Philippines, which has 10 times our population density and one-tenth our average annual income. It's simple math: Finite resources divided by overpopulation equals poverty.
Where are taxes higher, rural Florida or crowded New York City? Yet, while the Times writes that crowding destroys, the Times cannot seem to force itself to endorse "enough-is-enough" candidates in our state, county or city elections. Could that be because the Times is media, like commercial radio and TV, and its profits come from advertising fees, which increase as its "readership base," our crowding, increases?
-- Early M. Sorenson, Dunedin
This letter concerns the issue of education.
I have observed a disconnect between the political rhetoric and the day-to-day realities of the classroom. It is disappointing to hear politicians simplistically ascribing our educational impasse to "failing schools and failing teachers."
My fiance is a teacher. She is a 27-year veteran teacher of mathematics in the Pinellas County high school system. She spends countless unpaid hours after each school day grading papers and preparing the lesson plan for the following day.
In too many of her classrooms she is confronted with a minority of non-compliant students who disrupt the classroom with antics and distractive behavior. These few students are chronic offenders with a record of discipline problems including repeated detentions and suspensions. They often do not do their homework, and are unprepared for classwork. Some are waiting to reach age 16 when they can withdraw from school without parental consent. These students are a drag on the academic performance of the entire class. A large portion of the teaching and administrative resources is diverted to keeping these few uncooperative students under control.
The majority of well-behaved students are in the classroom to study and learn. They would be best served if the few chronically non-compliant ones were diverted to classes designated for special needs or behavioral disability where smaller student-teacher ratios could be implemented to accommodate their more intensive needs.
A positive educational outcome requires a cooperative, motivated student as well as a nurturing school environment. Capricious criticism of our dedicated teachers will not solve the problem of the behaviorally challenged student, which contributes in large degree to the performance issues that preoccupy our educators, legislators and the media.
-- David Jelaso, Clearwater
Little spared in Bush's proposed budget cuts (February 25, 2001)
Growing out of control (February 25, 2001)
The university system teetering on the edge (February 18, 2001)