As a follow-up to your September article about the Broward school district, we would like to invite you to return to the school system and take a closer look. We believe your snapshot observations resulted in an article which is both a disservice to our school system and to the responsible reporting for which Florida Trend is noted.
We invite you to more closely examine some of the major reforms underway in the nation's sixth largest school district. Take a second look at our accountability policy with its three-year timelines for school improvement or the imposition of some dire consequences. Consider that, while it is true that private business can more quickly make sweeping changes to rid itself of failure, it, unlike public education, is not constrained by a state collective bargaining law and a mandated clientele.
Florida Trend could more clearly analyze our test scores which are declining slightly, but at a minimal rate in comparison to the large numbers of urban poor now enrolling in our school system. These students need more services and extra attention if they are to succeed, yet they come to us in an era of dwindling education dollars.
Rethink the quick dismissal of the commitment and investment into our school district of our business leaders through the WorldClass project of the state Chamber of Commerce and through business community leadership seeking to work with us to solve our problems. While some of these leaders have had non-secret business ties to the system, a far greater number of those who are involved do not have any such financial interest.
Take a closer look at some of the new business practices we have implemented. Streamlined designs, expanded use of prototype designs and new construction methodologies have reduced the square footage cost of our school construction.
Examine the district's new personnel policies that have downsized central administrative costs, capped retirement payouts and instituted hiring and promotion practices that encourage minority participation while adhering to standards for quality personnel.
Certainly there is room for change and improvement. Technology, alone, is putting us on a fast track of needed reform. Our job now is to assume a more aggressive posture in informing our community of what already is underway in our system. Our failure to do that was brought home sharply to us when Broward voters in September, following a pattern set by other districts in the state, turned down our request for an additional penny sales tax for school construction.
Perception was half the battle, and we lost it. We're working hard now to overcome that communication gap. Like our invitation to Florida Trend to come back to Broward and take a second look, we are focusing our attention on telling the "rest of the story" to our own community. We think it is a story worth the telling.
Frank R. Petruzielo
Superintendent Of Schools
As a three-time elected School Board member beginning my twelfth year, I bet you thought I would be miffed at your September 1995 issue regarding public education in Florida. The truth is, I applaud you for exposing the politics and problems plaguing many of our school districts.
For too long, educrats at all levels acted as if the days of milk and honey, with what appeared to be unlimited funding, would never end. The resulting excesses - including the expansion and addition of costly programs and the administrative costs associated with each - blinded decision-makers to the coming funding reductions and the public's apparent resolve not to hand over more money until we clean up our act.
Educrats, caught off-guard, often find themselves unprepared to effectively deal with the cuts. Couple this with educational associations' frequent defense of the status quo and watered-down curricula, their resistance to true accountability, and is it any wonder that record numbers (particularly public school teachers) send their children to private schools and call for a complete overhaul of the system?
Do not misunderstand me. I believe in public education and the many dedicated, hard-working people associated with it. But, overall, our children deserve better. Urgent, meaningful changes are required if the public school system is to survive. It should not be survival as we know it.
Two factors are essential: school choice and smaller school districts. Choice will stimulate the necessary competition that will result in a rise in educational standards. Parents will demand such or take their business elsewhere. Making large districts into smaller, more manageable ones should include eliminating county-wide school boards and central administrative offices. Let the people who are affected by decisions make them. Let them set their own goals, work out their own problems and be responsible for them. The current setup rarely effectively permits this to occur.
I'm sure my comments will not endear me to most of my educational associates who constantly say the solution to educational problems is more money. And they will probably continue to publicly cry that the changes suggested above cannot be done, will be too costly or will hurt the children.
Member And Former Chairman
Palm Beach County School Board
Many thanks for the articles in your September issue addressing the Florida educational system's problems. Here in Pasco County, we heard of them right before our referendum vote on a sales tax increase on Sept. 12. The tax was voted down, 64% vs. 36%. The articles confirm much of what our Pasco County group, Citizens Opposed to the Sales Tax Increase, was working to bring to the public's attention in our fight to defeat the tax.
I did have some problems, however, with the article entitled "Cyber Teachers." The empirical data on the effectiveness of computers as teaching tools has been conflicting at best.
It is wise, when hearing from educators on how wonderful a new teaching method is, to ask for the actual studies on which these opinions are based, rather than relying strictly on the word of the people whose jobs depend on this "wonderfulness."
Regarding the "impressive" results found way back in 1991 [in a study of educational technology] by the University of Michigan: What test was used? Had the test changed between comparisons? What teaching methods were applied to the children to whom the "improved" were compared? What is meant by "student productivity"? How are the tested children doing four years later?
After years of listening to educators extol their own virtues while seeing the appalling rate of illiteracy, the public finally has been forced to pop its head out of the sand.
Poorly defined, ever elusive, "higher-level thought processes" do not come about for children with no grasp of skills that so many computer programs fail to teach.
Land O' Lakes
I read with a great deal of interest and scrutiny your September 1995 issue. My congratulations to you on a significant effort in defining not only the problems with education in the state of Florida but also potential solutions.
I would make note that the figures on page 31 of the "total education spending per Florida student" are in fact quite low. As I'm sure your reporters can verify, to actually figure out the amount of money spent per student is a daunting task. This is all tied into the concept of an FTE (full time equivalent). On top of that, there are then weighted equivalents, etc.
Much more productive is to determine the entire budget of a school board and divide it by the total number of students. When that figure is obtained, the average school district in Florida has a $7,500 to $8,500 per student expenditure.
Kent R. Corral, M.D.
We are disappointed in the article "Sweet Talk" in the October issue. Apparently, Florida Trend has taken an editorial position against the Florida sugar industry and chose to publish a biased piece that only tells part of the story. The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida is made up of 56 small-to-medium sized sugarcane farms located in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Our members take pride in being efficient food producers while at the same time being good stewards of the environment.
While centering on U.S. sugar policy, your article neglected to explain how American consumers and producers benefit from the program. The Sugar Program guarantees a stable supply of high quality sweetener at a very reasonable price: 27% below the developed-country average price of sugar at the supermarket.
Also, the program benefits our friendly foreign trading partners by providing preferential access to our market. Besides being a no-cost program, U.S. producers pay in excess of $30 million each year in marketing fees to contribute toward federal budget deficit reduction.
We would like nothing more than to be able to operate without governmental intervention. However, virtually every sugar-producing country in the world, including Australia, has some kind of market intervention program. We believe we can compete with farmers anywhere in the world, but we cannot compete with dumped sugar subsidized by foreign treasuries.
Further, the Florida sugar industry is an important part of South Florida's economy, generating in excess of $1.5 billion in economic activity annually and providing 40,000 jobs. Next time, please provide your readers with a balanced picture and provide your readers with all the facts.
President of Sugar Cane Growers
Cooperative of Florida