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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

The Baltimore Sun

State already faces staffing shortfall

The attack on the retirement benefits of Maryland public employees that ran on The Sun's Opinion

Commentary page neglects to note a crucial fact for Marylanders: Our state is failing to recruit and retain staff for vital, even lifesaving positions ("Time for Maryland to face its health benefits burden," Aug. 30). Reducing benefits for employees would only exacerbate that crisis.

Staffing shortages in corrections and mental health have helped cause fatalities in recent years - with two correctional officers and a direct care attendant murdered on the job in 2006.

In the face of such a staffing crisis, slashing retiree health care benefits would devastate the ability of the state government to recruit and retain a quality work force.

This would further undermine services that save lives and help provide a society Maryland can be proud of.

Maryland can't balance its budget on the backs of state employees and expect to have a state that meets the standards the public demands.

And keep in mind that state employees have essentially gone through a five-year freeze in take-home pay.

There were no raises for state employees in 2003 and 2004. The last years of the Ehrlich administration saw minimal pay increases, which for most employees were wiped out by increased pension and health care costs.

It's easy from a distance to call for a cut in benefits for state employees.

But one shouldn't delude oneself into thinking there would be no serious - even fatal - consequences.

Royce Treadaway Baltimore

Jack Hughes Salisbury

The writers are the presidents of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Locals No. 2801 and No. 3478, respectively.

Acting to assist students at risk

The controversy over high school testing and diploma requirements threatens to obscure the need for good teaching.

So we thank you for The Sun's editorial that noted, "State education officials must do everything possible to help low-performing districts provide more quality instruction and targeted interventions to get students over the hump" ("Reassessing the tests," editorial, Aug. 30)

The Maryland Education Coalition calls for targeted intervention as early as possible for each and every student who is at risk of failing his or her assessment exams.

School districts should use the funding they have received through the Thornton law to help tailor teaching to the needs of these students.

Carl Stokes

Baltimore

The writer is chairman of the Maryland Education Coalition.

Grasmick erodes school standards

Besides the lowering of standards involved in offering a graduation alternative for students who can't pass the High School Assessment tests, the truly disturbing aspect of the proposed alternative may be state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick's justification for offering it.

According to Ms. Grasmick, the HSAs "speak most importantly to equity and the quality of instruction" ("Grasmick proposes alternative to tests," Aug. 29).

Silly me; I thought learning and student achievement were the most important items on the education agenda.

Craig R. Piette

Reisterstown

The writer teaches in a private school for special-needs children in Baltimore County.

Troops must finish their job in Iraq

We need to finish what we started and bring peace to Iraq ("Bush makes surprise visit to troops in Iraq," Sept. 4). Why should we stop now and let our enemies move in to fill the void?

We also need to keep al-Qaida fighting across the ocean, far away from the U.S. mainland, until we destroy that group.

Surrender is not an option - and withdrawal of U.S. troops would leave Iraq vulnerable to al-Qaida and tell our enemies that we will move on shortly and they can do as they wish.

Withdrawing troops from Iraq would have disastrous results for the people of Iraq, for the region and for America.

Our troops deserve the united support of the American people - all of us - with no more bashing the war the way so many people did during the Vietnam War era.

Howard Orton

Pumphrey

Death toll shows surge isn't working

The article carrying the subheading "American combat deaths decline in Iraq as civilian losses mount" was misleading ("Shiite leader's aide fatally shot in Basra," Sept. 2).

This subheading may be factual but it is also irrelevant to the conditions in Iraq.

As Juan Cole and other bloggers have recently pointed out, insurgent activity in the hot months is always lower than at other times of the year.

Therefore, the right comparison for U.S. troop deaths from June to late August this year would be to the deaths in the same period last year.

And the number of deaths this summer is actually higher than last year's total.

The increased death toll clearly indicates the lack of progress the so-called surge is having in that devastated country.

John Warthen

Catonsville

A poignant account of mystery of faith

I must say how much I enjoyed Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column "A conversation with the Almighty" (Opinion

Commentary, Sept. 2).

I believe he was really inspired in writing it.

And with all the talk about Mother Teresa's decades-long "dry spell" in her faith, the discussion Mr. Pitts offered with God was so poignant.

Ruth Manley

Cockeysville

Make more effort on the puzzle page

Hooray for the reader who wrote to complain about the crossword puzzles in The Sun ("Shrinking puzzles frustrate seniors," letters, Aug. 28).

I can get most of my news on TV or the computer. But I depend on the paper for puzzles. And they are too small.

Please show some effort on the puzzle page, and do so now.

Doris Malin

Baltimore

Better-trained police a win-win situation

The writer of a recent letter implied that training in dealing with mental illness is not necessary for police officers ("Officer had to shoot to do his tough job," Aug. 29).

The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides training to give police officers additional tools to deal with the mentally ill - tools that may enable them to defuse a potentially dangerous situation without having to use deadly force.

No one - least of all those of us who care for mentally ill relatives or friends - wants to increase the risk that is part of a police officer's difficult job.

Training in dealing with mental illness reduces the risk to officers and to our ailing loved ones.

It is a win-win situation.

Bob Wirtz

Baltimore

The writer is a volunteer and teacher for the Baltimore area affiliate of NAMI.

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