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    Letters to the Editors

    Choice will only make things worse

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2000

    Re: School choice.

    I have three young children who have or will benefit from the excellent school system in Pinellas County. And yes, I live in north Pinellas County, so my children have not had to face the disruption of rotational busing. I believe that rotational busing is a real problem that is being "fixed" by a cure much worse than the disease.

    Much of what is good about our schools in Pinellas County will be lost: close neighborhood and community environments that foster safety and problem solving; parental and child involvement; and emotional connections to the schools. Many new problems will be created: resentment and bad morale among parents and children; lack of involvement due to time and distance constraints; and huge financial and safety issues due to the complex, mammoth new bus routes. How many children will die on the roads as a result of this expanded busing?

    I will not participate in this plan. If the choice plan passes on Tuesday, I will begin my plans to home school my children.

    I urge other parents to become "refuseniks" also. We do not have to accept this. It is just a shame that those trying to fix the problem of rotational busing have instead made plans to ruin our school system.
    -- Davanna Kilgore, Ozona

    Go fundamental

    Re: To be clear on Pinellas schools' choice plan, by Dr. Howard Hinesley, Oct. 10.

    It is amazing to me how many parents in Pinellas County Schools finally understand what this choice means. I have watched the deterioration of the school system for many years now.

    How would you like to be a homeowner who gets a letter stating that your home is being taken by the county to build new schools, and there is really nothing that you can do about it? If Pinellas County has all this money to build and remodel schools, why are there students without books to take home and needs lists placed in the paper by teachers?

    Here's an idea: Make all the schools fundamental, which they should be already, and forget about busing!
    -- K. Newton, Gulfport

    More luck than choice

    Much has been written about the proposed school choice plan for Pinellas County public schools, and yet it seems there are many questions about how it will really affect families. The proposed plan is being described as offering choices to parents and as meeting the district's aim of effective and efficient operation.

    Closer examination of the plan shows that "choice" is more luck than desire and that the transportation can hardly be an efficient operation. Students must complete an application "as early as possible" in the school year for the following year. If there are more applications than spaces for a particular school, a computer-selection process will make student assignments based on a preference plan. This is basically a lottery system with some preference considerations that may affect your odds. Students who apply after the deadline will be assigned on a "space-available basis."

    Proximity is third on the preference list, and only 35 percent of available spaces will be filled by students who live closest to their first-choice school.

    Transportation will be provided, but the service model will have to be somewhat complicated and inefficient to take students to such a variety of school locations. One idea under consideration is shuttle-bus service taking students from one area to the different schools in an attendance zone. Another is to take students to a hub in each attendance zone where they will transfer to a different bus going to their own school. Even elementary-aged children may need to change buses.

    Parents need to take a closer look at this plan. The school your child attends could be determined by factors beyond your control, and even living near a school does not guarantee a space for your child. Contact the School Board members about your concerns. Urge them to put proximity at the top of the preference list and increase the number of proximity spaces at each school. The School Board will vote on school choice Tuesday.
    -- Karen Grof, Safety Harbor

    Seeking trade pays off

    Re: Taxpayers foot bill for global junkets, Oct. 15.

    Your recent story about my travel on behalf of Florida failed to note its most crucial purpose. The issue is simple: All Floridians directly benefit from our international relationships because trade creates more jobs, higher salaries and more revenue for the state. This translates to more funding to improve our education system, to fight crime or to enhance our health care services -- without raising taxes.

    Both the governor and the Legislature increased by 700 percent the international affairs responsibilities of the Department of State. I swore to uphold these laws when I was elected and am fulfilling my promise to expand Florida's international relations.

    Why? Because each $1-billion increase in trade creates 20,000 new jobs. The fact is Florida's trade has grown more than $38-billion in the past several years. Studies show the opportunities for Florida's corporations are vast -- trade-related employees' salaries can be 15 percent higher. Companies that export become 20 percent more profitable and grow 17 percent faster. Enterprise Florida has identified 20,000 corporations and 15,000 manufacturers who could benefit from exporting in the near future.

    Examples of accomplishments stemming from my travel are numerous, with more than 30 new initiatives successfully completed. Recently, Brazilian dignitaries presented a $1.8-million cultural-and-business mission they wish to sponsor throughout Florida to increase awareness of Brazil's position as Florida's No. 1 trading partner (more than China, Russia and India combined.)

    Travel is an inherent part of building these international relationships. To expect Florida to compete for new markets without establishing such relationships is tantamount to expecting a police officer to enforce the law without leaving the station.

    I want Floridians to know I will continue to diligently pursue the cultural and economic opportunities for Florida, while being vigilant concerning the use of taxpayers' dollars.
    -- Katherine Harris, secretary of state, Tallahassee

    She's doing her job

    Re: Taxpayers foot bill for global junkets, Oct. 15.

    After carefully perusing Diane Rado's article, my only possible comment has to be, "So what?" The state of Florida has more than 13-million residents. Florida's secretary of state must represent the interests of those residents as best she can. Do you propose that she stay at an Econolodge or Motel 6 while doing so? It seems to me she is doing her job by making the state of Florida a player in the world economy.

    So what if she is a millionaire? I'll try not to hold that against her. Frankly speaking, a millionaire has much better qualifications to serve as secretary of state than, say, I do. Of course, she keeps scrupulous records of her travel expenses. That sounds like what the people of this state should expect from an elected official.
    -- Philipp Michel Reichold, Largo

    Maine leads again

    Re: Clean money, Oct. 15.

    Hurrah for Maine. When I was growing up in Maine, there was a saying: "As Maine goes, so goes the nation." This referred to the fact Maine then had the first election in the nation, and often the voting in Maine reflected the final results of the national elections.

    Now, it seems, we have a reason to hope that again the nation will go the way Maine is leading. The Clean Election Act gives new hope for a sensible way for our government to become again a government "of the people, by the people, for the people."

    For too long the professional politicians and lobbyists have run the country. With a national law like this one, good intelligent people could try for offices and give the electorate a good selection. With candidates not needing outrageous financing from special interest groups, corporate sponsors or PACs, we would end up with the scourge of all crooked politicians: an intelligent, caring, honest government.
    -- With the opportunity to have good people in the government, we might even be able to actually wrest the reins of our personal lives back from our "caring, benevolent leaders." Picture a world where the government only sticks its collective two cents in where there is abuse or real need.
    If John Q. Public, the politically minded, can run for election without financial entanglements, he might actually listen to John Q. Public, the person whom he should be representing.
    Fred Cain, Pinellas Park

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