- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

April 7

Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal on lifeguards:

This weekend, it’ll be safer to swim in the Gulf of Mexico along much of the shore in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

That’s because of forward thinking by the public safety folks, the Santa Rosa Island Authority and Gulf Islands National Seashore’s leadership.

In her “Gaining Ground” report Saturday, beach reporter Kimberly Blair wrote that cooperation between Gulf Islands National Seashore and the Island Authority means lifeguards will expand their coverage area. A formal agreement was signed last week to extend lifeguard coverage for miles:

- Pensacola Beach lifeguards will be protecting swimmers at Langdon Beach in the Fort Pickens area from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Sept. 30.

- This weekend, lifeguards will begin staffing towers at Johnson Beach on Perdido Key, and Opal Beach in the Santa Rosa County area of the National Seashore.

We’d like to commend the work of Bob West, Pensacola Beach’s public safety supervisor, and Seashore Superintendent Dan Brown for the coverage plan. …

It’s good to see two government entities work together - are you paying attention Escambia County and the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority? - to benefit local residents and the tens of thousands of visitors to our beaches. Though it took more than a year to pull it off, our beaches will be safer. Public safety should be a prime concern for governments.

After all, it wasn’t always this way on the island. Until just more than a decade ago, there was a “swim at your own risk” mentality that left far too many people drowning in the surf. That changed with West’s hiring. He hired more lifeguards, got them to patrol in vehicles, and he began a public education plan on the danger of riptides and the flag warning system about surf conditions. To be sure, there is still an element of danger when entering the Gulf, even for good swimmers, but this plan reduces that risk.

To locals and visitors who will be visiting on spring break: Welcome to Northwest Florida and have a good time. However, listen to our lifeguards and heed their warnings. We want you to have a pleasant, safe experience and come back next year.




April 6

Gainesville (Fla.) Sun on selecting a superintendent:

As the Alachua County School Board prepares to narrow the list of candidates for superintendent, a cloud of discord needs to be cleared to ensure the final choice has broad community support.

Interim Superintendent Hershel Lyons is currently not an official contender for the job. But that’s not because he’s being snubbed, as one community member suggested last month.

It’s because Lyons never applied. When the board started the process of selecting a permanent superintendent more than six months ago, Lyons said he wasn’t interested.

The board hired a group to conduct a national search. Then on the eve of the application deadline, Lyons said he’d be interested if the School Board didn’t find another suitable choice.

It’s no crime for Lyons to change his mind. And the board might still decide Lyons should be considered among the finalists, despite him missing the deadline.

But Lyons would first need to formally apply. It’s not enough to just judge him on his record here. Any candidate for superintendent must demonstrate a vision for the school district moving forward.

Alachua County Public Schools are in better shape than a lot of districts in the state. Before longtime Superintendent Dan Boyd retired last year, the county twice passed a property tax increase providing crucial funding.

But that doesn’t mean that everything is rosy. The School Board on Tuesday is expected to consider the possibility that revenues are more than $5 million short of projections due to reporting errors.

The district’s graduation rates are also cause for concern. Rates rose last year at six of the county’s seven public high schools, a sign of progress. But Hawthorne High’s graduation rate dropped to a shameful 50 percent.

There are also issues of inequality. Some schools on Gainesville’s east side have slipped in state ratings. There are disparities between magnet programs and the schools housing them.

The job of superintendent requires someone who will make hard decisions even if they’re unpopular in some quarters. That becomes more difficult if the person starts with a perceived lack of support in part of the community. The situation with Lyons threatens to create exactly such a scenario.

On April 15, the School Board is supposed to narrow a list of eight candidates for the job to a smaller group of finalists. If Lyons wants to formally apply before then, the board can choose whether he should make the cut.

But once those decisions are made, the focus needs to be on picking the best superintendent possible. Whether it’s a familiar or a fresh face, the person deserves broad community support to help make the tough choices necessary to ensure local students have an opportunity to prosper.




April 5

The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on Gov. Rick Scott pressuring Veterans Affairs:

We are glad to see Gov. Rick Scott pressure the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to come clean on reports of deaths and injuries that resulted from test delays at VA hospitals.

Yet the VA is stonewalling the governor just as it has stonewalled the efforts by the Tribune’s Howard Altman and members of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee to learn details about the deaths of 19 veterans because of delays in diagnostic testing. Five of those deaths and nine injuries occurred in the VA region that includes Florida.

Scott has pledged to make Florida the most military-friendly state in the nation, so this is an area of special concern.

Earlier this week he directed Elizabeth Dudek, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, to inspect VA hospitals and report her findings.

Dudek sent two inspectors to the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center on Thursday, but they were escorted out without being allowed to review any records.

VA officials said they would work with the state but were unprepared for the unannounced visit. But how prepared do they need to be to produce medical records that could reveal why patients didn’t receive test results in a timely fashion?

As Altman found, 19 veterans died nationwide of gastrointestinal cancers as a result of delayed endoscopy tests between 2009 and 2011. The delays were less than a year but more than 90 days. In addition to the deaths, 63 veterans suffered medical harm from the delays.

Scott is not the only elected official upset by the lapse. Sen. Bill Nelson has been critical of the VA’s response and last week visited Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans Hospital. He said none of the deaths occurred at Haley.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller also have pushed for more VA answers.

The governor intends to keep the pressure on the VA and rightly blasted it after the state inspectors were rebuffed:

“… I am disappointed the VA turned away the agency’s surveyors who were trying to bring transparency to the processes of federal VA hospitals. This is outrageous and unacceptable to the brave men and women who have defended our nation.

“We expect the federal government to do what’s best for our veterans and answer the many outstanding questions important to improving their health care.”

The VA can defuse this controversy by simply and candidly answering those questions.





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