A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers.
Tampa Bay Times – Keep momentum going on Florida education
The sweeping education bill that Gov. Rick Scott has signed into law is a solid step forward. In the last week of the legislative session, lawmakers can preserve that momentum by rejecting bills that could give taxpayer money to untested online course providers and create too many opportunities for for-profit charters to take over underperforming schools.
The new education law recognizes that not all students are going to college and that it is not necessary to master Algebra II to earn a high school diploma. The law establishes a “scholar” diploma and one with a “merit” designation, which would allow students to take industry-certification courses, as a computer programmer or automotive technician, for example, in place of more traditional higher-level math and science courses. In rolling out the rules, it will be important to make sure “merit” diploma recipients are still ready for college if they decide to take that path.
Tampa Bay Times – Channelside bid looks promising
Until the terms are nailed down, it’s impossible to judge whether a developer’s bid to take over Channelside Bay Plaza is fair to taxpayers and promising for downtown Tampa. But the concept sketched out last week includes key elements that are essential for reviving the waterfront retail and entertainment complex. The Tampa Port Authority, which must approve any deal, should ensure that the package is financially sound and contributes long term to the development of the entire Channel District.
Real estate investors Punit Shah and Santosh Govindaraju announced that their new joint venture, Liberty Channelside LLC, has signed an agreement to purchase Channelside’s lease from the Irish Bank Resolution Corp., which foreclosed on the property in 2010 after the former leaseholder defaulted on a $27 million loan. As the owner of the land under Channelside, the Port Authority has veto power over any deal. Its governing board may take up the proposal at its May 21 meeting.
The Bradenton Herald – Manatee County school district, board endure more tough days
With the Manatee County school board and administration dealing with a dizzying array of difficulties and issues, the continuing onslaught boggles the mind.
On top of the immediate urgency surrounding the budget crisis and a state transition team in town for a sweeping review of the district, other concerns arose.
Superintendent Rick Mills revealed Thursday that the district will only have a meager $100,000 left when the fiscal year ends in two months. That’s far, far short of the $6.7 million needed to meet the state mandate of at least a 2.2 percent fund balance. That makes three consecutive years the district has failed the reserve requirement. Part of the problems is that more than $4 million in attrition savings did not materialize as expected.
Daytona Beach News-Journal – Lawmakers approve solid ethics reform
The Florida Legislature has passed a stronger-than-expected ethics reform package that Gov. Rick Scott should not hesitate to sign.
Earlier in this legislative session, it appeared as if ethics reforms would be passed — but the reforms would be watered down, more of a feel-good gesture that legislators could use in re-election ads in 2014.
But lawmakers actually listened to criticisms and ended up passing a significant ethics measure unanimously, on Wednesday. A companion campaign-finance regulation bill also passed with strong support. While not perfect bills, the reforms are strong and should enhance the integrity of Florida’s political system.
The Lakeland Ledger – Landings Settlement Talks: City of Secrecy
Last Monday, the Winter Haven City Commission, and residents attending the board’s meeting, hoped to hear a solution to one of the city’s most divisive issues of recent years, The Landings.
City Manager Deric Feacher gave a report, the details of which he had kept secret, and the commission discussed Feacher’s findings — for a total of 1 hour, 8 minutes.
The comment time allotted to residents in the audience to talk about the report: zero.
Orlando Sentinel – Scott should sign ethics, veto campaign packages
Florida lawmakers crowed last week, with some justification, about passing a “historic” package of ethics reforms. But they squandered a historic chance to deliver true campaign finance reform in another package they sent to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.
Lawmakers are daring Scott to reject either one before the end of this year’s legislative session while they hold hostage two of his priorities — across-the-board raises for teachers and a tax cut for manufacturers.
Scott should ignore this political extortion attempt and let the balance between good and bad in both packages dictate their fate.
The Tampa Tribune – Scandalous VA backlog merits urgent action and accountability
There’s no shortage of money and manpower to fulfill the country’s moral obligation to care for its injured military veterans.
So why are hundreds of thousands of veterans forced to wait a year or more to have their disability claims processed by the Department of Veterans Affairs?
The answer can be found in an abject failure of leadership.
Although the backlog has been building for years, it wasn’t until recent press reports documented the disgraceful claims backlog that the White House and the VA displayed the appropriate sense of urgency.
The Ocala Star Banner – The real problem
Any discussion about reforming state-run Citizens Property Insurance should begin with two questions: Why does Citizens exist? Why has it become Florida’s largest property insurer?
The answer to both questions is the same: because of a lack of reliable and affordable private insurance.
The failure to adequately address this fundamental problem may be why the Florida Senate’s latest attempt to reform Citizens has run into trouble — first with outraged Citizens policyholders, then with Gov. Rick Scott, now with Republican senators from coastal communities.
Palm Beach County Administrator Robert Weisman has a problem with the head of the county’s new government watchdog agency. Inspector General Sheryl Steckler, he argues, has been too divisive.
His solution? Calling last week for Ms. Steckler’s firing — in a very public manner. Unsurprisingly, his comment, in an email to other county officials, only has poisoned the air as the three-year-old Office of Inspector General works to establish itself as an investigator of government waste and fraud.
Mr. Weisman’s statement that Ms. Steckler should be “terminated for bad judgment” made headlines and prompted a government-ethics watchdog group to scold him, correctly, for “overstepping his authority.” So much for his concern about divisiveness. His irresponsible comment comes as many of the county’s largest cities are suing to undermine the Office of Inspector General by refusing to pay their share of its budget. Mr. Weisman has strengthened their hand.