Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times on a teacher shortage:
Florida is facing a serious teacher shortage, and it’s no surprise given the low pay, low career esteem, long hours and bureaucratic burdens of standardized testing and paperwork. Making the state’s classrooms a more attractive place to work will require more than higher pay — although that would be a start. It will take better training, more freedom in the classroom to teach and, to quote the late Aretha Franklin, just a little respect.
Numbers compiled by the Florida Education Association show there were 4,063 teacher vacancies statewide as the school year started. That compared with 3,000 last year and 2,400 the year before. While the numbers may be a bit imprecise, the trend line is clear.
Pay is part of the problem. Starting pay for a teacher is as little as $30,900 in rural Taylor County. Even Pinellas County’s starting teacher pay, which at $43,000 is in the top tier statewide, is below the county’s median family income and doesn’t really pay enough for someone hoping to buy a new a car and rent or buy a decent place to live.
But it’s not just pay. Teachers routinely have too few resources, covering school supplies and other essentials out of their own pockets. They are given too little time to plan so that work hours extend deep into the evening and on the weekends. Their classroom time can be so proscribed by picayune district and state rules that they have little flexibility. Tests and assessments come so frequently that they interfere with classroom instruction and become education-interrupting exercises in frustration.
The class-size amendment, with its strict rules on students per class, has amplified the problem as districts scramble to hire enough teachers to meet the legal requirements. But some districts have found it cheaper simply to pay fines for too-crowded classrooms rather than hire enough teachers. That helps no one at all. In that sense, the 2002 class size amendment, while well-intentioned, has continued to warp the priorities of state education spending and focus.
Things need to improve — and now. Start with pay. Florida ranks 45th in average teacher pay ($47,267) and is far lower than the national average of $59,660. The National Education Association calculates that average teacher pay in Florida, adjusted for inflation, has declined by 12.2 percent over the past decade. Still, teachers don’t do it for the money.
Whatever the field, good hiring managers find the best people, pay them well and give them freedom to do their jobs. Give teachers the tools they need, the pay they deserve and the respect they merit, and all the rest will take care of itself.
Naples Daily News on September in Florida:
As the famous phrase goes, there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. In Florida, there are two certainties in September: surviving hurricane season and taxes.
Each deserves the rapt attention of Southwest Florida residents and taxpayers now that the calendar has flipped to a new month.
September historically is the busiest month of hurricane season although we can hope current meteorological conditions keep the tropics calm.
We still have blue tarps on some homes and roofers in demand from Hurricane Irma’s landfall last Sept. 10, which coincidentally is the peak day of any hurricane season.
Here’s a reminder to be sure you’re stocked up on supplies and prepared.
Collier emergency managers say your survival kit should cover at least 72 hours, with enough food and at least three gallons of water per person. Remember medications, blankets, pillows, cash, cellphone chargers, clothing, first-aid supplies, flashlights, batteries, mosquito spray, a battery-operated NOAA weather radio and toiletries. Don’t forget pet care items for a minimum of three days.
Know where you plan to go and share that information with loved ones.
As for taxpayer survival, September is local budget approval month.
This coming week, various city and county governments, as well as special taxing districts, begin holding public hearings before adopting spending plans and a tax rate for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
It’s a key year for citizens to participate at public hearings. Property owners recently received by mail a notice regarding their proposed tax bill. At the bottom is a summary of times, dates and locations of public hearings for any agency to which you pay taxes. You’ll notice different dates for each. That gives you a chance to weigh in with each agency about what you like, or don’t. The times are after 5 p.m. so that working folks may participate.
School districts are on the state’s budget year from July 1 to June 30 so are further ahead in budget approval than other local governments.
By now, all taxing authorities have set a maximum tax rate. With your input, these still can be reduced if you think they’re too high but can’t easily be increased.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal on lionfish:
What do you call an animal that has venomous spikes, no natural predators, a voracious appetite and the capacity for one female to lay as many as 2 million eggs a year?
Many people might say “an ecological nightmare.” And in Florida’s offshore waters, that definitely works. But the more specific answer is “lionfish.” The fish’s scary appearance — striped in maroon and white, liberally garnished with 18 projecting spines — is a good match for its problematic behavior. Scientists say lionfish basically never stop breeding, or eating. They particularly love young grouper, snapper and other sought-after fish, along with parrotfish and other species that help clean coastal reefs.
The lionfish’s only saving grace is that they are pretty dang delicious themselves, with mild, white, flaky flesh (in fact, one of their alternate names is “tastyfish.”) Once the spines are removed or cooked, they are perfectly safe to eat. Restaurants and seafood vendors say they’re having no trouble convincing Floridians to try lionfish; they could sell more — a lot more — if they had it.
So how does Florida get more lionfish from ocean to plate? The trick may lie in new technology — and in right-sizing regulation to encourage entrepreneurs. That’s an effort state and federal officials should get behind.
The time-honored method of catching lionfish is spear-fishing — but that means one diver, catching one fish at a time. In addition to being labor-intensive, that method can’t reach lionfish hiding in the depths, hundreds of feet below safe diving range.
Several options are being explored, including deep-sea robots that spear or electrocute fish. But the most promising option might be traps. These work well because lionfish like to gather in large groups, and tend to remain relatively still. Lobster fishermen routinely report pulling up traps full of lionfish.
In July, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission won permission from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration to test traps designed to catch more lionfish at a time. It’s a step in the right direction. But private groups who want to test their own alternatives say they’ve been stymied by the byzantine federal bureaucracy.
“A lot of people have given up on it because of the pushback you get,” says Joe Glass, who heads a Gainesville-based advocacy organization known as ReefSavers. He says the FWC traps are individually made and expensive to manufacture. He and others would like to design traps that can be mass-produced less expensively; ReefSavers’ plan is to give the traps to commercial fishing operations for free, in return for sharing the proceeds of the catch. It’s a private-sector solution that could make sense, particularly if NOAA relaxes some of the regulations to allow testing of the new designs. It should.
The other problem: Developing a reliable supply chain. Grocery stores like Publix and Whole Foods are interested in selling lionfish, and restaurants want them on the menu. But both markets are shaky, because the supply fluctuates so much. Seafood distributors deal in large quantities, but lionfish come in small batches (though Glass says spearfishers in Daytona Beach and Ormond Beach have produced some impressive hauls). Traps could help stabilize that supply.
At least, for as long as it lasts. That’s the final wrinkle: Nobody wants to establish a lionfish “fishery” with a vested interest in maintaining a steady supply of the invasive pest. Ideally, lionfish should be eradicated from Florida’s waters, and other parts of the U.S. coast.
It’s a tricky problem, with a lot of moving parts, and government shouldn’t try to solve it on its own. Enlisting private industry to the cause — with the clear goal of removing the fish — makes sense, and might also make for good eating.