Personal prep time critical to teachers
The Sun's editorial "Mountains and molehills" (Oct. 11) misses the point of the teachers' protests entirely, and attempts to reduce the issue at hand to a mere 45 minutes of individual planning time.
Perhaps if The Sun truly listened to teachers and union officials, it could develop a better understanding of the issue.
For instance, in a recent letter to the editor, a retired teacher explained that she had to arrive an hour early and leave an hour late to perform her teaching duties effectively. She suggested that teachers be given three additional planning periods per week ("Add planning time for primary teachers," Oct. 8).
Here's what The Sun's editors and the citizens of Baltimore should know.
In New York, the former home and workplace of city schools CEO Andres Alonso, the collective bargaining agreement between the United Federation of Teachers and the board of education gives all teachers, regardless of the level on which they teach, at least one self-directed preparation period per day. In addition, all secondary teachers and teachers in elementary schools who teach eight periods per day have one "professional period" per day.
Thus Mr. Alonso seeks to impose on Baltimore teachers conditions that do not exist - and would not be tolerated - in the New York system.
The Baltimore school system provides less planning time for teachers than any other school district in Central Maryland does. What's at issue here is the school board's attempt to reduce teachers' planning time even further.
The Baltimore Teachers Union has put forth several proposals and compromises to Mr. Alonso to resolve this issue. They have all been turned down.
Teachers are drawing the line at cutting individual planning time because they feel that this time is essential to their professional performance and to the work they do for children.
It is not merely a matter of 45 minutes.
The writer is president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.
Real issue is rape, not legal liability
As executive director of an advocacy organization for survivors of sexual violence, I find it difficult to witness the absurd drama that has unfolded around the Clothesline Project at the University of Maryland, College Park ("UM ban on names draws protests," Oct. 4).
How is it that after 17 years of hosting the Clothesline Project with not a single defamation lawsuit resulting from the event, the school suddenly wants to limit the ways in which some rape victims can express what happened to them?
The university is certainly faced with a legitimate legal quandary. After all, the issue of free speech vs. defamation of character has been debated time and again.
However, in fixating on this controversy, we are forgetting larger, more important questions that have gone unanswered for far too long:
Why are so many students on the campus being raped? Why is it that victims feel that the only justice they can get is by naming names on a T-shirt? Which names would the school rather not see emblazoned across T-shirts? Those of star athletes? Student leaders? Sons of prominent school officials?
Why is it that the school seems so concerned about potential liability issues when the very real and long-standing needs of rape victims on campus are not being met?
Students are entitled to a campus community that neither condones nor quietly accepts sexual violence. To foster such a climate, the message from the administration must clearly convey intolerance of sexual offenses.
When the culture of rape is so prominent on a campus that an annual Clothesline Project becomes a bone of contention debated beyond the campus grounds, clearly the real issue must be larger than one of exposure and liability.
Jennifer Pollitt Hill
The writer is executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Make pro athletes repay scholarships
The recent news that not one scholarship athlete on the University of Maryland men's basketball team from 1997 to 2000 graduated should not shock anyone. But that reality is entirely unacceptable ("UM men's basketball grad rate falls again," Oct. 4).
It's time for all of us, including our colleges and universities, to call athletic scholarships what they really are - salaries for minor-league athletes.
Colleges make substantial profits on athletics, and use that to rationalize awarding such scholarships.
Many of the students who get such scholarships do not care about their education. But they end up getting a free ride and occupying seats in the classroom many other youths would love to have.
We hear of schools imposing sanctions on athletic programs because an athlete has received special treatment from alumni or other sources. Please, spare us the hypocrisy, and clean up your own house.
Enough is enough. I propose that athletic scholarships be eliminated and replaced with athletic salaries.
As part of the agreement for these athletes to receive a salary, they should also have to sign a letter of reimbursement - much the way they sign a letter of intent to go to the school - that stipulates that if they succeed in their athletic career and sign a professional contract worth millions of dollars, they will, in return, invest $100,000 back in that school.
That way, the next generation of Maryland basketball players could attend school compliments of Juan Dixon or Chris Wilcox, both of whom accepted Maryland scholarships and have earned millions in the NBA but have not graduated.
That way the school's scholarship dollars could be used where they will have real value - for honors students going to school to further their education and their career in a field other than athletics.
The great injustice is not that so many college athletes aren't graduating.
It is that other students are graduating and then struggling to pay off their college debt because they couldn't get a scholarship - while athletes who got a free ride are living large on the outrageous salaries of professional sports.
Gardina right to take pit bulls seriously
Baltimore County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina is absolutely correct: Given the increasing number of attacks by pit bulls, action needs to be taken ("Bill on pit bulls attacked," Oct. 10).
Too many pit bulls are considered friendly until they go off and attack someone spontaneously.
I know, because I was almost attacked by a pit bull two months ago. And I say to the detractors of Mr. Gardina's proposal that they've never stared death in the face until they've encountered a pit bull champing at the bit in front of them.
It saddens me that Mr. Gardina's legislation has met with such opposition, especially since he's only looking out for people's safety.
Let's wake up and grasp the seriousness of this issue.
Unfortunately, I don't think some council members and detractors of this bill will consider this a major issue until they or someone in their family is menaced by a pit bull.
Limits on pit bulls ignore real problem
First, I want to express my sympathy for Dominic Solesky and his family. Any injury of that magnitude is horrifying, and anyone with feeling would sympathize with Dominic ("Proposal takes aim at pit bull maulings," Oct. 8).
However, Baltimore County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina's proposal - which would require owners of American pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers or any mixed-breed dogs that include those breeds to have their dogs muzzled at all times when they are in public, put them in cages at other times and have a sign on their house or fence warning neighbors that they have one of these dogs - is, at best, horribly misguided and, at worst, plainly absurd.
Such proposals do nothing to address the real problem, which is not the dogs but their owners.
No matter what is done to restrict dogs, as long as irresponsible individuals who lack a basic understanding of a dog's needs or the commitment to properly tend a dog own dogs of any breed, people and other pets will be the victims of dog attacks.
The media seem to enjoy portraying pit bulls as cold-blooded, calculating murderers when, in fact, they are just dogs.
We human beings, who have the ability to think and reason, must take responsibility for not putting forth the necessary efforts to provide these animals with the exercise, discipline and affection they need.
Tobacco tax hike will hurt retailers
As president of the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association, I want to express the strong opposition of our members to Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to double state cigarette taxes. Because tobacco sales account for one-third of all sales at Maryland's convenience stores, this punitive taxation of our customers who choose to smoke would cause economic hardship for our storeowners and their employees.
But there is another lesson to be learned about the economic dangers of this huge rise in cigarette taxes.
In New Jersey, the cigarette tax has been raised so high that the state is experiencing a decrease in cigarette tax revenues. The reason is simple - many smokers in New Jersey are not buying cigarettes from New Jersey retailers. They are driving to nearby states where taxes are lower, buying cigarettes on the Internet or finding black-market outlets where cigarettes are cheaper.
Several other states where taxes are very high report cigarette tax collections falling short of revenue projections.
By doubling the cigarette tax, Maryland government will encourage a proliferation of black market activities, which increase crime, and encourage cross-border purchases of cigarettes and other items, which would hurt retailers and reduce revenue to Maryland.
Tax Pa. commuters to pay for transit
I second the proposal for a toll on Interstate 83 by the writer of the letter "New tolls can make Pa. commuters pay" (Oct. 8).
Tens of thousands of motorists, many of whom are former Marylanders now residing in southern Pennsylvania, are clogging Maryland's highways while feeding at Maryland's economic trough and dodging their share of the costs all at the same time.
The traffic backups these commuters cause raise the cost of goods and services shipped to reach our state. And all that one-person-per-car driving (and waiting) is polluting our air and water.
In fact, I would take the letter writer's proposal several steps further. I recommend designating the left lane of I-83 as a truck-and-bus-only lane at peak hours. In addition to installing a toll facility on I-83, I would put tolls on every other road that crosses the Pennsylvania border to keep motorists from avoiding the toll.
Better still would be a hefty commuter tax on every out-of-state resident who works in Maryland.
The money generated could be used to extend the light rail and for other transit projects.
Galen A. Wallace
Credit ratings offer critical information
The Sun's editorial "More to blame" (Oct. 2) was unfairly critical of the work carried out by credit rating agencies in the mortgage-backed securities market and failed to recognize how our ratings support effective and transparent markets.
A Standard & Poor's rating is an independent, impartial opinion on the credit quality of bonds that speaks to the likelihood these bonds will pay interest and principal on time. A credit rating does not speak to expected market performance, price risk or the suitability of a particular investment.
S&P; has been rating residential mortgage-backed securities for 30 years and has developed industry-leading processes and models for evaluating the creditworthiness of these transactions. As a result, S&P; has an excellent record of assessing RMBS default risk.
Furthermore, S&P; has spoken out - and taken action - early and often on subprime lending issues.
In fact, S&P; began downgrading some of its ratings in this field toward the end of last year and commented on deterioration in the subprime sector long before that.
Some skeptics, including the author of The Sun's editorial, question whether in pursuit of fees, S&P; and other major rating agencies may give higher ratings than they otherwise would.
There is no evidence - none at all - to support this contention with respect to S&P.;
Furthermore, such a claim ignores the significant benefits of our business model. This model - in which we are paid by those who issue bonds - allows S&P; to make millions of current and historical ratings available free on our Web sites, which fosters transparency and the free flow of information. Our model also supports the substantial, often multiyear surveillance obligations rating agencies assume when we assign a rating.
At S&P;, our reputation and integrity are our most valuable long-term assets. This would make it imprudent for us to provide anything other than fair and independent ratings opinions.
The writer is executive vice president for credit market services of Standard & Poor's.
Global warming is everyone's concern
Within a few days, I recently read in The Sun:
First, that President Bush has urged all nations to take action to address climate change (while he has done little) ("Bush to skip climate session," Sept. 24).
Second, that Gov. Martin O'Malley has urged Congress to take action to address climate change ("U.S. action on bay sought," Sept. 27).
And third, that Maryland citizens have increased their consumption of electricity even as costs have escalated ("Tough to Unplug," Sept. 30).
I guess everyone must see conservation as someone else's problem.
But the road to climate change disaster is paved with good intentions. To avoid that disaster, the federal government needs to enact and implement a serious energy policy.
The state government needs to enact and implement transportation and land-use policies that discourage auto-based mobility, and we, as individuals, need to rethink our priorities as well as to support political leaders willing to make such difficult decisions.
It's time for all of us, from the president to ordinary citizens, to stop looking to someone else to take action and instead step up to the plate ourselves.
The writer is membership chairman of the Greater Baltimore Sierra Club.
Thin out the herds of humans instead?
My letter is in response to the gentleman who thought The Sun's article "Seen and Herd" (Oct. 1) was "pathetic" ("The neighbors want deer herds thinned," letters, Oct. 5).
He mentioned the "overabundance of deer near and around the watershed."
Well, when I was a child growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, our Sunday family drives were to the Loch Raven Dam area. This was a time to visit Cloverland Dairy Farms and picnic in the Loch Raven watershed.
We enjoyed the visits and respected the outdoors and nature.
What I think is pathetic is the fact that today the human herds continue to invade nature's territory.
We build our million-dollar homes on and around natural watersheds and for some reason think that this gives us the right to destroy the life that has lived in this area long before the humans ever came along.
Maybe the proper solution would to be to thin out the human herds by not allowing us to continue to build in these areas and allow all creatures to roam there freely and without fear.
Listen to patients about thyroid pain
While I'm grateful for media coverage of the typically overlooked problem of thyroid disease, I was disappointed by comments featured in the article "Oprah increases thyroid awareness" (Oct. 4) from endocrinologist Peter Singer of the University of Southern California.
Dr. Singer is quoted as saying that when a person is hyperthyroid, "You've got all the symptoms of being in love."
As a thyroid patient advocate, I've talked to hundreds of people in the throes of hyper-thyroidism.
Not one of them has ever described his or her symptoms as like "being in love."
Rather, they describe crippling panic attacks, terrifying heart palpitations, hair falling out in big handfuls, sweating all the time, constant explosive diarrhea, muscle fatigue so bad that they can't walk up steps or brush their hair, bulging eyes and insomnia that leads to constant exhaustion.
Does that sound like love?
Patients with debilitating symptoms and a life-changing disease do not deserve to be cavalierly dismissed with quips such as Dr. Singer's remark.
What's long overdue is for Dr. Singer and other endocrinologists to start observing and truly listening to - and caring about - what thyroid patients actually experience.
Mary J. Shomon
The writer is a thyroid patient advocate.
Would slot machines provide a jackpot for Maryland?
The Maryland comptroller's message on slots was a shot across the bow that all Maryland citizens should consider closely ("Franchot warns against slots," Oct. 5).
My perspective stems from five years of living in Las Vegas. For three of those years, I served as information manager for the Clark County Manager's Office, which is the operational hub for the Las Vegas-Clark County gambling empire.
This heady experience taught me many lessons, most of which I would prefer to leave in Las Vegas.
But I think Comptroller Peter Franchot is just pointing out the obvious: A predatory gambling industry does indeed exist, always in the shadows, which can influence the highest-minded of elected and non-elected officials.
Its influences can and do turn good people into felons, turn tax-paying businesses into criminal enterprises and fundamentally erode our sense of higher civic duty by pandering to our baser instincts - all under the guise of entertainment and recreation.
Citizens should beware of gambling.
They ignore Mr. Franchot's warning at their own and their children's peril.
Comptroller Peter Franchot was quoted in The Sun saying that legalized slot machines will result in "slots in a neighborhood near you." But to use this argument against slots is ludicrous.
In nearly every neighborhood, we already find the Maryland Lottery selling its midday Pick 3, evening Pick 3, midday Pick 4, evening Pick 4, Bonus Match 5 and Mega Millions tickets.
And what about the video gambling in our neighborhoods featuring various Keno games?
That's not to mention the multitude of scratch-off games, such as Set for Life, Maryland Million, Mega-Bucks Jackpot and more, more, more.
These games have already penetrated the fabric of our society and are available to the entire population, including our children, who have access to unsupervised vending machines in supermarkets and other businesses.
Yet Mr. Franchot was curiously silent about the Maryland Lottery.
I would respectfully request justification for the claim by the writer of the letter "It's long past time to pass slots plan" (Oct. 7) that "most Marylanders want slots."
I move in a fairly large community of accomplished, educated, middle-class and upper-middle-class Marylanders. My community of peers, friends and acquaintances strongly, strongly opposes slots for Maryland.
We look at what gambling and slots have done to Atlantic City, N.J., and see that the costs of slots and gambling for the community easily outweigh the apparent profits.
With legalized gambling, the state ends up paying to "cure" addicted gamblers while encouraging and advertising gambling.
The state also pays to help support low-income families while encouraging low-income families to spend money on slots in the hope of getting rich quickly.
Slots are essentially a tax on those at the lowest economic level of society. But all of us must pay for the fallout.
Please, let's have no slots in Maryland.
Let our neighboring states see the quick cash, and also pay for the long-term consequences.
Let us stay healthy for the long term.
In last Sunday's Travel section, there was a full-page advertisement titled "Weekend Getaway." Its theme was "Roll the Dice in the Mid-Atlantic." And, not surprisingly, it showcased Atlantic City (in New Jersey), Dover Downs and Delaware Park (in Delaware) and Charles Town Races and Slots (in West Virginia).
We read so much about the $1.7 billion state budget shortfall, and Gov. Martin O'Malley is trying everything to balance the budget, including proposing raising the cigarette tax to $2 per pack and raising the sales tax rate to 6 percent.
But when is the state legislature going to wake up? Maryland needs slots.
Slots opponents such as House Speaker Michael E. Busch and state Comptroller Peter Franchot are certainly not speaking for me (or for that matter, anyone I know). And are they going to pay my tax increases? I doubt it.
Why don't we see how the citizens really feel about slots and put the issue to a referendum?
The last time I checked, we still lived in a democracy. Let the voters decide.
Steven L. Eisenberg