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    Letters to the Editors

    Forget choice, let's make all schools better

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 10, 2000


    Re: School "choice" plan in Pinellas County.

    I find it very difficult to believe that the "school choice" plan is actually being seriously considered as an answer to our school woes. Is there no such thing as common sense anymore? The problem is not that parents don't have a choice of which school to send their children to, it is that they feel they need a choice.

    I should not have to send my child on an hour bus ride to get to school, whether it's busing to a "better" school (i.e. magnet) or out of a less "desirable" neighborhood. Our neighborhood schools, no matter which neighborhood that may be, should be good schools.

    Complaints about lack of parental involvement in such activities as "Back to School Night" or teacher-parent conferences are common. Has anyone considered that the physical distance that must be traveled by the parents of bused students just might be a factor in this very serious problem? If we are not going to provide parental transportation for these activities then maybe we should allow the children to go to school close enough so that their parents can attend these functions without undue stress.

    Do I sound as though I live in a fairy-tale world? Maybe I do, but I know that the estimated $12-million extra that will be spent on busing in just the first year if this proposal goes through would be in the dream of any teacher I know -- to be spent on making every school better. And ask any child how he or she would like to spend a few extra hours of the day, and not very many would answer "on a bus."
    -- Linda Garrison, St. Petersburg

    A too-costly experiment

    Re: School choice plan gets price tag, Oct. 4.

    Where is the logic here? What is the School Board thinking? If we have an extra $6.2-million dollars to spend every year to bus children around Pinellas County, wouldn't we be better off spending it on other things?

    Let's hire more teachers, not more bus drivers. How about filling our schools with more computers and textbooks, not filling our roads with more buses. Let our children spend time learning math, reading and science, not on the scenic routes of Pinellas County.

    The price of the school choice plan is outrageous! Do the math. There's $6.2-million in upfront costs, plus $6.2-million annually (school choice is to run from 2003-2007). That adds up to $31-million.

    So if you ask me, school choice looks like quite an expensive experiment. The sad part is our children (the guinea pigs) won't be getting better schools -- just a nice ride on a new bus.
    -- Kirsten Forsman, Largo

    What one parent would choose

    As a parent of an 8th grade student, I feel I must advise the Pinellas County School Board of the choices I would like to have for my child's high school education.

    I would prefer my child attend a high school that provides him with an excellent education that is a 15-minute bus ride from home. I would like him to attend a school with friends who live nearby. I would choose to have him attend a school where he can be involved in after-school activities. If he's sick and calls me, I want to be able to say "I'll be there in 5 minutes, sweetheart." I want a school where I can be involved in my son's education.

    I don't feel I have that choice now. In order for my son to receive the highest quality public education, in a safe and stimulating environment, he will have to attend a magnet school at the north or south end of the county. He will have to spend at least an additional 5 hours a week on a bus. His friends will be scattered all over the the county. He won't be able to be involved in after-school activities because of the distance. If he's sick, I'll have to say, "I'll be there just as soon as I can, sweetheart." As a parent, I'll feel disfranchised.

    I would prefer the Pinellas County School Board allocate the $6-million-plus per year it would spend on busing and put it into the local schools. How many additional teachers can $6-million pay for? How many books can $6-million buy. Choice? My choice is to make the Pinellas County School system one of the best in the nation. My choice is to live anywhere in the county and know that my son will reach his potential. My choice is to know that no matter what school he attends, he will be safe and happy. This is the choice my son is entitled to. If the School Board members can't do this, then perhaps they should use the $6-million to pay for a private school education that does.
    -- Barbara N. Peckham, Largo

    Stick with what works

    My husband and I have read relevant articles, attended informational meetings and studied details of the negotiated settlement. In contrast to the opinion of Roger Plata, lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who urges the Pinellas County School Board to ignore the outcry of parents and educators because "many residents are fearful or misinformed", we are fearful and informed. Pinellas will now have to find an additional $6.2-million a year plus another $6.2-million at the outset for transportation alone to implement a plan that is a logistical nightmare. It would be completely irresponsible for the School Board to approve a plan prior to knowing and budgeting for all costs and determining the impact on current budgets.

    It would make more sense to continue the initiatives that the county now has in place and have resulted in eliminating segregated and unequal schools: magnet, fundamental and charter schools and school accountability via a grading system. With the addition of vouchers, all parents will have the option of moving their children out of failing schools. All of these initiatives meet the objectives that the Legal Defense Fund is looking for: more choices and better schools motivated by competition. The choice plan would call for allocating students to "underchosen" schools. Is this going to motivate failing schools to improve?

    It makes more sense to improve on success than to create a program that will add incredible cost to a financially strapped system and distraction from our true mission to educate the next generation. Let's not take a giant step back in all the areas that matter most in order to resolve a court case.
    -- Leona Pfeiffer, Palm Harbor

    Swiftmud should be taken to task

    Re: Forget watering more: it may be less, Sept. 27.

    Assuming that Sonny Vergara of the Southwest Florida Water Management District is correct and that "the average rainfall is no longer enough," then it would seem essential that a total moratorium on all growth be implemented immediately.

    Is there no obligation to the people who live here and pay taxes? Can we not expect to be supplied with adequate water for a decent quality of life? What will happen to the many people who earn their living in landscaping? Southern California has no local water to draw from. Water is pumped from hundreds of miles away. San Diego and Los Angeles have no once-per-week-watering restrictions. Our water rates are expensive; they are the highest of anywhere I have ever lived. Florida is covered in water. Take a flight, look out the window -- thousands of lakes, dozens of rivers with freshwater flowing into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. What is going on? Swiftmud does not want to supply sufficient water for the 16 counties it controls. It is afraid it would lose power. It seems that Swiftmud is a bureaucracy out of control. Either Swiftmud is incapable or unwilling to supply adequate water to the people of Pinellas. Swiftmud is relishing the power it wields. The water agency seems to have no interest in finding alternative water sources. What is the alternative? Shut this area down. No more buildings, no more homes, no more business, no expansion of any kind. That is not going to happen. Swiftmud can't have it both ways. Just imagine all those ugly gravel lawns, and empty swimming pools.

    Come on, let's get some politicians with the guts to take these overpaid, empty suits to task.
    -- Thomas H. McSunas, Palm Harbor

    Population growth is an issue

    Is population growth a reasonable subject for politicians?

    Our business community needs growth. More people mean more customers and a larger labor supply.

    More people also mean more water consumption, more carbon dioxide, more garbage, more sewage, more timber consumption and more fish consumption -- lots of problems.

    What are the thoughts of our leaders on population growth?
    -- W.J. Lineberger, Pinellas Park

    Blame is again misdirected

    Re: Slain teacher's widow sues gun firm, shop, Oct. 5.

    What is this country coming to? A .25-caliber pistol is legally purchased through a licensed dealer and then stolen by the buyer's grandson to commit a murder. How can you sue the manufacturer and dealer who had nothing to do with the crime?

    When will society start pointing its finger at the criminals who commit these crimes? Instead people point at businesses and persons that followed the law just as they pointed at the Tampa police in the recent car chase.

    Wake up, America! It's time to place the blame where it belongs and stop these ridiculous lawsuits that do nothing to solve the crime problem!
    Craig Smith, Largo

    Fathers who fled

    Re: Roles were issued by God, letter. Oct. 1.

    The letter writer said, "let real moms stay at home and raise their children . . ." He attributes the breakdown of the family to equality in the work force.

    However, he didn't address the multitude of "unreal dads" who run off and leave their families, forcing the mom to find a job and let other people care for the children.

    Usually these cast-off families live in poverty because the men, in their quest for freedom, didn't follow their God-given responsibilities.
    -- B.J. Mitchell, St. Petersburg

    Horse story was a hit

    Re: Sure-footed horse helps police, Oct. 2.

    The true story of Randy, the sure-footed horse of the Tampa Police Department, was worth every penny of the renewal subscription price.

    Thank you, Amy Herdy!

    P.S. Hopefully, after his faithful service days are over, they won't take him to the glue factory.
    -- E.H. Angelescu, Seminole

    Troxler's bold wit

    Re: Ode to a candidate trying to be all things.

    In Howard Troxler's column of Oct. 2 on the Bill Nelson "Love Song," your brilliant columnist wrote a four-star hit in his delightful and superb parody of T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

    I look forward regularly to Troxler's scintillating wit once again making my day.
    -- Robert Bone, Tampa

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