A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

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A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times Improving struggling schools

Nowhere today in Pinellas County is the promise of a new school year more urgent than in a handful of south St. Petersburg schools where students have consistently struggled to learn to read. Pinellas superintendent Michael Grego has high hopes that this could be the year that trend lines reverse at the five elementary schools and has a host of strategies, some still in draft stages, for bolder intervention in coming months. But the school district will need the broad and sustained support of the community to turn this tide.

This summer came the sobering news that two of St. Petersburg’s elementary schools, Melrose and Fairmount Park, were the worst in the state in student reading performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Three other Pinellas elementary schools, Maximo, Lakewood and Campbell Park, made the state’s list of the 25 worst-performing on reading. The disappointing news came despite several bold initiatives implemented in the past two years — from after school “Promise Time” and “Summer Bridge” programs geared to struggling students to radical turnaround plans at some schools that included installing new principals and their hand-picked staff. The five schools are also among 16 Pinellas schools that will add an extra hour of reading instruction this year under a legislative requirement that applies to the state’s 307 worst-performing elementary schools in reading.

Grego told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board last week he is convinced the district is on the right path. He noted that the district’s efforts to attract and retain staff using incentive pay and signing bonuses appears to be stabilizing faculty at low-performing schools, a key step toward building cohesion and improving relationships with students’ families and the neighborhood. He said when Campbell Park Elementary opens its doors this morning, for example, he expects just four new teachers to be on staff.

The Bradenton Herald — Recap of Herald recommendations in five big primary election contests

As early voting in the Aug. 26 primary enters its second day this Sunday and absentee ballots continue to be filled out, we recap our recommendations in five big contests.

School board D-2: Rodney K. Jones

Two first-time candidates for public office, community activist Rodney Jones and social studies teacher Charlie Kennedy, are competing to replace Barbara Harvey, who has held the position for 16 years.

Jones, a certified grant writer with a project management background, carries a long history of volunteerism in the district — including service on several key citizens committees.

He also sits on the school advisory committee at G.D. Rogers Elementary, and he has been a substitute teacher in the district. Plus, he has worked in or had direct oversight of contracted schools in Manatee, DeSoto and Hardee counties.

His experience at successfully managing multimillion-dollar contracts will come into play as the district continues building sound budgets after years of deficits and mismanagement.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Technology creates shift in outdated paradigms

As the 19th century turned to the 20th, a new technology began to upend the traditional modes and mores of transportation. The automobile was quickly growing in popularity, and its loud noises and belching fumes were scaring the horses that previously had owned the roads. Some local governments responded by passing regulations that required motorists to stop at the request of horsemen whose animals were frightened — or else outright banned these newfangled “horseless carriages” from their byways.

A hundred years later, the country continues to struggle adapting longstanding regulatory paradigms to technological change that increasingly makes the old rules obsolete. Daytona Beach soon may be among those cities forced to choose between protecting the status quo and opening the door to the future.

Traditional taxicabs, which usually are licensed and regulated by local governments, are facing competition from “ridesharing” companies such as Uber and Lyft that bypass much of the red tape. Passengers can download a smartphone app and request a ride from an affiliated driver in the area using his (or her) personal vehicle. The price of the ride can be negotiated, and the fee can be paid via PayPal or other online options — no cash or physical credit card needed.

The Florida Times-Union — Support libraries by voting yes on straw ballot

Voters in Duval County have an unusual choice on the Aug. 26 ballot.

They will be asked if they want to have a future vote on setting up an independent library district.

This straw ballot was proposed following a study by Jacksonville Community Council Inc.

A citizens group of library supporters racked up more than 30,000 signatures on a petition to put this on the ballot.

The leaders of the petition drive said that support was enthusiastic and widespread from the voters on the street.

After all, libraries probably are the most popular public service. The library system reaches people more than 20 million times a year.

HAPPY PLACES

Libraries are joyful places where we can get away, relax, get informed, apply for a job, listen to music or go to meetings. The options are endless.

“A library is no longer just a place; it’s a cultural destination in itself, a venue for weddings and special events, art exhibits and performances and a neighborhood gathering spot,” the library system reported.

The Gainesville Sun – Get out the vote

Florida voters successfully shamed their lawmakers into restoring hours that had been cut from early voting. Now they have to use the opportunity to get out the vote.

Early voting for the Aug. 26 primary election starts today in Alachua County and runs until next Saturday. Voters can cast ballots from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on those days at the County Administration Building, Milhopper Branch Library and Tower Road Branch Library.

The Legislature’s cuts to early voting days in 2011 helped cause long lines at the polls in the following year’s presidential race. Lawmakers reversed course last year, restoring hours and again allowing early voting on the Sunday before Election Day.

Sundays are important because black churches encourage voters to cast ballots on that day in an effort known as “souls to the polls.” The local NAACP chapter will be holding an early-voting event Sunday from 1-6 p.m. at Bo Diddley Community Plaza.

There should be plenty of motivation to head to the polls. The ballot features some consequential local races including the Alachua County Commission and School Board. Issues such as the Plum Creek development and direction of local schools could be decided by the outcome.

The Lakeland Ledger — County Commission Dilemma: Too Many Hands in Cookie Jar

Your business — or your family — has a limited amount of money. You try to cover all expenses to make everyone happy, but there just isn’t enough in the cookie jar to satisfy all the hands diving in.

So you decide to make everyone justify why they need money — what they’ll use it for, what other sources of funding they have, what would happen if they didn’t get the money.

And then you decide. Jake gets this amount. Judy gets such and such. John’s out of the picture.

Let’s face it, most of us have gone through this more than once in our lives. It’s hard to deliver bad news to our kids, our spouses or our employees, but the fact is we sometimes must say no.

That’s where the County Commission finds itself now, after years of trying to fund as many nonprofit and non-governmental agencies as possible. A couple of years ago it started requiring anyone wanting county funds to apply for whatever amount of money the commission sets aside — $450,000 this year.

On Tuesday, the commission doled out only $416,000 of that amount, leaving $34,000 to be returned to the general fund. For whatever reason, the County Commission decided not to fund one group that had made it to the final round: the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County.

The Miami Herald — The Herald recommends, for Governor, Democratic primary

Democrats torn over whom to vote for in the primary race for governor have to ask themselves one question: Who would make the most effective candidate against incumbent Gov. Rick Scott?

Broward County’s Nan Rich can claim to be the better Democrat in the race. She served in the Legislature for 12 years, the last two as Senate minority leader from 2010 to 2012 at a time when Democrats were fighting to stay relevant in GOP-dominated Tallahassee. Mr. Crist was the sitting Republican governor during part of that period, before he made the mistake of jumping into the race for an open U.S. Senate seat that he failed to win after getting clobbered by the right.

The test, however, should not be who boasts the finest party pedigree, but who has the name recognition, the campaign chest and the right résumé to wage the strongest campaign against the well-heeled Scott organization. The former governor outpaces his primary opponent in all those categories.

Mr. Crist leads in fund-raising, by a margin of roughly 20 to 1. And while he is running neck and neck with Gov. Scott in the polls, Ms. Rich trails the incumbent by a significant margin.

As leader of a badly outnumbered Democratic minority (28 to 12), Sen. Rich managed to win some surprising victories in the Capitol, like defeating a Scott-backed prison privatization bill. Credit her legislative skill and ability to reach across the aisle. But Mr. Crist has the edge when it comes to overall experience in government. He has served not only in the Legislature, but also as education commissioner, attorney general, and governor.

The Orlando Sentinel — Our primary endorsements: Our Take

Absentee and early voting for the Aug. 26 primary are underway across Central Florida. Here are the candidates the Sentinel Editorial Board has endorsed:

Ninth Circuit judges, by group:

10 — Norberto Katz

12 — Margaret Schreiber

18 — Elaine Barbour

30 — Kevin Weiss

32 — Diana Tennis

33 — Heather Pinder Rodriguez

35 — Janet Thorpe

37 — Scott Polodna

18th Circuit judge, by group:

19 — Donna Goerner

Orange County judges, by group:

10 — Ken Barlow

15 — Brian Duckworth

Seminole County judge, by group:

6 — Jerri L. Collins

The Ocala StarBanner — Facing climate change

Craig Fugate is not a scientist, but he has the good sense to listen to scientists about the threat of climate change.

Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, spoke recently at the University of Florida’s doctoral commencement.

He told graduates that one of the hardest jobs of a public servant is being honest about “inconvenient” truths such as the threat that climate change poses to coastal states such as Florida.

“It’s inconvenient that much of our economy is on the coast and sea-level rise and tropical storms are going to continue to worsen,” he said. “Yet, people would rather not talk about global warming and go, ‘The data is inconclusive. It’s not proven yet.’”

Fugate started his career as a firefighter and paramedic in Alachua County, rising in the ranks to serve for a decade as that county’s emergency management director. Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him to serve as state emergency management director, a tenure that included overseeing the state’s response to four hurricanes in 2004 and three in 2005, before President Barack Obama appointed Fugate to his current job.

His career shows that preparing for disasters is not a partisan issue. It’s an example that Gov. Rick Scott would be wise to follow.

The Pensacola News-Journal — ‘It’s a big day for us’

We’re encouraged to see plans for receiving our share of compensation from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill cleared another hurdle last week.

We reported the Treasury Department on Wednesday announced it finished and published the guidelines on how RESTORE Act money can be spent in the five Gulf Coast states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

More than a third – 35 percent – of the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund will be divided equally by the affected states, a Treasury Department news release said. That money can be used to restore the environment and the economy that’s still impacted four years later. Florida’s share will be parceled out to 23 counties affected by the spill that crippled the economy, closed businesses and put scores of people out of work.

“This is major milestone,” Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson IV told reporter Kimberly Blair. “It’s a big day for us. It allows us — state and county — to start planning. The planning will be the most significant thing we can do.”

We share Robinson’s enthusiasm and want to remind the residents of Northwest Florida that it’s critical to have solid plans in place when the checks arrive. Not only will it be important to get started, it will show we’re on top of the recovery efforts. We’ve long maintained that while guidelines are important, decisions on how the money is spent should be made at the city and county levels. Escambia and Santa Rosa both have steering committees of citizens with various levels of expertise who will recommend to their respective commissioners on priorities. It’s an impressive roster of dedicated people. We thank them for agreeing to undertake the task. It’s long been said that the money heading here could change the course of the area for generations.

The Palm Beach Post — Your vote (still) counts

Absentee and early voting has begun for the Aug. 26 primary. And while it’s tough to ignore the court-ordered circus currently playing in Tallahassee, Palm Beach County voters have every reason to go to the polls.

Locally, voters are choosing among 48 candidates in 18 races, as well as referendums in Lake Worth, Delray Beach and South Bay.

The Panama City News-Herald — The genie was a genius

Robin Williams left us last week and while the manner of his death is tragic we choose to remember the laughter, the tears and the joy he gave us on the big and small screens.

The people who mourn Williams today view him differently depending on their first exposure to the irrepressible comedian and actor. Many of us discovered him as children and depending on your age he was Mork from Ork. To others he was “Mrs. Doubtfire,” or Peter Banning in “Hook,” or Teddy Roosevelt in “Night at the Museum” or, in an amazing performance his verbosity and genius seemed built for, Genie from “Aladdin.”

Some of the folks on The News Herald’s Facebook page said his performances in these and other movies got them through dark and depressing times in their own lives. It’s also important to note that Williams spent time overseas entertaining military troops and doing his best to brighten their spirits as they went about their dangerous work.

Williams could make kids and adults laugh with equal measure.

The Tallahassee Democrat – City Commission, Seat 3

The race between incumbent Nancy Miller and challenger Steve Stewart for Seat 3 on the Tallahassee City Commission offers voters some clear choices.

The candidates offer starkly different personal styles. They display philosophical differences over such major issues as government’s place in sparking downtown economic development. Without a doubt, they would be very different commissioners.

Nancy Miller is an experienced and effective commissioner, and the Democrat’s Editorial Board offers her its endorsement — knowing full well the things that swayed our decision could steer a voter toward Steve Stewart.

Ms. Miller, like Mr. Stewart, has experience as a small-business owner. She has a master’s degree in urban planning, and she put that skill to use when she played a part in the creation of Blueprint 2000, an initiative to make long-range plans for local infrastructure. In turn, she brought that experience to the City Commission when she was elected in 2010.

The Tampa Tribune — Graffiti should make way for riverwalk lights display

The bold graffiti dotting the seawall along the Hillsborough River has been a staple of downtown Tampa for decades.

Motorists driving over the river on the Kennedy Boulevard bridge can see the messages left behind by college rowing teams practicing on the southern end of the river. Although illegal, it has been tolerated by the city because it’s an expression of college spirit and is something unique to Tampa. But that doesn’t mean it’s deserving of preservation when a better, higher use for a portion of the seawall is being proposed.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants to erase the graffiti along a 650-foot section of the seawall from Kennedy Boulevard north toward Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and install lights below the water’s surface that will change color when pedestrians and cyclists move along the Riverwalk.

It’s an idea worth supporting. The lighting project will offer an artistic experience for Riverwalk visitors, and the rowers will still be able to express themselves on other sections of the seawall unaffected by the lighting project.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.