- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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August 31

South Florida Sun Sentinel on the response to Tropical Storm Erika

As tests go, Tropical Storm Erika was hardly a tough one for South Florida. But it was a great practice drill, and South Florida definitely passed.



After teasing and threatening South Florida for days, only a wisp of the storm dropped by. We saw some squalls, flood advisories and plenty of lightning, but few major incidents.

You might have expected South Florida to be out of practice for a huge storm, since we have had few real threats since Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005, after taking a surprise U-turn across the Everglades and causing $20 billion in damage.

But if the area was rusty, it didn’t show the last few days. People bought out supplies at grocery stores, and there were few if any reports of panic or surly shoppers. People patiently waited in long lines to gas up their cars. Many folks closed hurricane shutters and brought in outside objects that could become flying projectiles in a storm.

County officials got to test their emergency plans, a good exercise. And on Friday, when Erika remained a threat, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency, allowing Florida to seek assistance from other states and the federal government, if needed.

In short, everything worked as you would hope in preparation for a bad storm.

“We made it through the hurricane scare and can chalk it all up to a really good test run,” said Tara Monks, spokeswoman for the Port of Palm Beach.

Among the successful tests were the three additional storm pumps installed last week in Miami Beach. Neighborhoods that have flooded in the past reported the pumps did exceptionally well in handling the stormwater.

Hurricane Fred, which has formed in the Atlantic, doesn’t figure to come close to Florida, but there will be other storms forming this hurricane season. And there are more tests that still need to be passed.

For example:

What will be the effect of our revised flood maps, which let many homeowners - especially those in western Broward and Palm Beach counties - opt out of buying federal flood insurance?

What about the new policies and practices of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which has outsourced thousands of policies to untested upstart companies and hasn’t faced hurricane claims for 10 years?

Are enough gas stations truly prepared? Because of the hours-long lines that grew after Wilma, a new state law was passed that require back-up generators at gas stations within a half-mile of an interstate highway or evacuation route. Water treatment plants also must have back-up power. Many grocery stores added generators as well.

How well can South Florida water managers control canal levels and stormwater pumps to reduce flooding in yards and roads? And when will we find a solution to dumping so much fresh water into the ocean to protect the aged infrastructure around Lake Okeechobee?

How well can Broward’s 911 emergency response system handle a huge storm, given the problems it’s had with communications? Will emergency responders in Broward’s cities be able to communicate with one another over their radios?

We also need to know if big utilities, like FPL, can quickly address the power interruptions sure to occur. Wilma cut off power to 3.2 million homes and businesses in Florida.

All of those questions are for another day, another storm.

For now, South Florida has shown it didn’t get rusty in the decade since Wilma, even if bigger tests loom.

Online:

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/

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August 30

Bradenton Herald on state’s funding of public schools

Developments over the past several days show the startling contrast between the haves and the have nots in primary and secondary education in Manatee County. As has been well documented over the past few years, Tallahassee favors the privatization of K-12 schooling by allocating more money for capital projects to those enterprises. Public schools are left begging for the scraps.

Some private schools are also blessed with wealthy patrons and corporations, which further widens the gap in funding. Nothing wrong with that, for sure. In fact, that’s a great thing. Those students enjoy educational opportunities superior to those available in under-funded public schools.

Meanwhile, public schools also grapple with a Legislature bent on imposing policies and regulations that stifle creative and innovative approaches to education and handcuff administrators and school boards. The playing field is far from level.

All this comes into sharp focus in Manatee County as the school year begins.

This week IMG Academy opened an impressive $11.5 million, 70,000-square-foot, three-story building with four art labs, four science labs, a media center with a computer lab, and more. All academic classes for the school’s students in grade six through IMG’s postgraduate program will now learn under one roof for the first time. A new student center is expected to debut later this year.

IMG is a highly respected corporate entity best known for its sports performance programs that attract athletes from around the globe. The company is an economic powerhouse in Manatee County, rightfully well appreciated in the community.

Also this week, Out-of-Door Academy debuted a $4.5 million student and STEM center, a two-story, 10,000-square-foot marvel that will serve as a science, technology, engineering and math center. The school educates children from kindergarten through 12th grade. Funding came from the Dick Vitale family, the Dart family and the Dart Foundation. ODA is also a valuable community asset.

Kudos to both IMG and ODA for expanding their academic facilities.

But imagine public schools with such facilities and the college and career opportunities that follow an education enhanced by state-of-the-art labs.

Instead, the Manatee County school district faces high hurdles in simply dealing with a growing enrollment that will soon eclipse classroom capacity. The district expects 1,000 additional students this fall when the initial enrollment numbers are tabulated. That number follows similar student increases annually over the past few years.

Half if not more of the students in the latest surge are attending the already crowded schools east of Interstate 75. Seven elementary schools and four middle schools around the county exceed capacity today. Four high schools are crowded, too, but total enrollment indicates high schools as a whole exceed capacity.

Portable classrooms are the only option since at this point school construction is yet to enter just the conceptual stage. Money, land and specific sites are not on the district’s radar as it awaits a consultant’s report on redistricting and construction by January.

As new housing developments blossom, the pressure on the district will increase. New schools are expected to be needed in a few years.

Here’s the rub: The state won’t fund school construction until a district reaches capacity, but state calculations on enrollment gains sometimes don’t equal district forecasts.

The tightfisted state won’t even let districts spend the local millage on school construction until benchmarks have been met. That’s your property tax money being held back from local control.

When the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott boasted about boosting K-12 spending this year, they left out one key element. More than half of the $780 million increase came from property taxes paid on the local level — to the tune of $494 million. It’s not surprising Tallahassee did not bring up this shell game.

For school construction, districts can resort to a sales tax, impact fees or voter-approved borrowing. Manatee made a mistake in suspending impact fees during the recession, hoping to help boost the housing industry.

And the district is working to reinstitute those fees, but the process has been slow as the district piggybacks on a county study to evaluate the fee structure. And the current sales tax will soon be up for renewal by voters, another hurdle for public schools.

While IMG and ODA both deserve much applause for great advances, the Manatee County school district struggles under the heavy weight imposed by a state with little concern for improving public school facilities.

Online:

https://www.bradenton.com/

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August 30

The Gainesville Sun on Gov. Rick Scott’s auditing of Florida hospitals

When it comes to his actions involving Florida hospitals, Gov. Rick Scott is either clueless or shameless about his complete hypocrisy.

Our bet is on the latter. Scott should be self-aware enough to realize he’s accusing hospitals of things that pale in comparison to his actions as a hospital executive.

Jeer Scott, for his hypocrisy in auditing Florida hospitals to ensure they haven’t committed Medicaid fraud. This comes from a governor whose tenure as CEO of Columbia/HCA hospitals led to the company being fined a then-record $1.7 billion for Medicaid and Medicare fraud. Scott pleaded the Fifth Amendment 75 times in a deposition to avoid discussing the case.

On Aug. 3, Scott ordered audits on 29 hospitals that failed to meet an Aug. 1 deadline for providing information on their Medicaid contracts. As The Sun reported this week, he has now added another 100 hospitals - including North Florida Regional Medical Center and several run by the University of Florida - to the list because he was unsatisfied with their responses.

Hospitals receiving public money should be scrutinized, but this seems like a politically motivated witch hunt. Scott has been on the warpath against hospitals since they sought state funding to supplement the federal aid lost due to the failure of Scott and the Legislature to expand Medicaid.

Online:

https://www.gainesville.com/

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