Pay Fray

Pay Fray
Filed under: Scanner

As the zero hour approached this past Friday, Shawn Beightol sat in his classroom at Michael Krop Senior High School, pondering the end.

Then the hallway outside Beightol's door began to fill with fellow teachers. They weren't going to allow a meeting scheduled for that morning to decide Beightol's fate. "My doorway packed with bodies of teachers holding signs that spoke of the right to free speech, assembly, and to redress grievances," Beightol wrote in a broadcast e-mail that afternoon. A social studies teacher presented Beightol with a torn flag inscribed with the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The meeting was postponed.

The longtime chemistry teacher and aspiring United Teachers of Dade president had been shaking cages recently, helping to organize protests over teachers' meager salaries (starting teachers in Miami-Dade make $34,000; $37,000 is the going rate in Broward, $40,000 in Monroe). To illustrate what he sees as a gross disparity, Beightol on October 5 circulated via e-mail a list of school district employees who earn more than $100,000 (there are 225, including twelve who make more than $165,000). (CLICK HERE FOR A PRINTABLE SPREADSHEET.)

Within hours of sending out the list, Beightol received a curt e-mail from Ofelia San Pedro, the district's deputy superintendent (tied for number three on the list, with a salary of $190,550). "I am advising you to stop using the system for this purpose," San Pedro wrote, warning Beightol he had already been "verbally advised" not to use the district's e-mail system for political purposes. (Beightol claims a regional superintendent had simply urged him to "be careful.") Doing so violates school board policy, San Pedro wrote. Even sending messages from his Yahoo account to other teachers via the district e-mail system would put Beightol in violation, according to San Pedro.

"I don't know if Ms. San Pedro is from ... somewhere where they don't have free speech, but she's obviously using pressure tactics," Beightol said recently. He argued that his e-mails were not purely political but in the interest of bettering the quality of education districtwide. San Pedro did not return calls, and officials at the district's media relations office could not be reached for comment.

Beightol was officially sanctioned October 10, four days after receiving San Pedro's e-mail, and was told to sign a memo admitting his transgression. He refused. In an e-mail from his Yahoo account to other teachers that day, Beightol wrote, "Welcome to Havana North.... What was once just a hunt for money at the challenge of school board members is turning into a First Amendment challenge of major proportions." Beightol wonders what will be done about the numerous other teachers calling for action via district e-mail. "Are they going to fire us all?"

This past Monday, Beightol was reassigned to a regional administrative office pending the outcome of an investigation of his e-mail usage. — Rob Jordan

Heavenly Bargain
Filed under: Flotsam

Every so often an idea is born that defies explanation. Here's one: Wholesale giant Costco is offering value-priced vessels for the inevitable journey into the afterlife.

Yeah, we mean coffins. At Costco. They're for sale at the store at 14585 Biscayne Blvd.

Surely even the most creative advertising minds are having trouble devising a tasteful way to package this product into a palatable dinner-time TV commercial. Where would they begin? Perhaps it might go something like this:

Panoramic shot of Costco customers, crammed like sardines in a can. A well-dressed fiftysomething couple, dwarfed by a gigantic cart crowned with a monstrous jar of ketchup, navigates the sea of shoppers leaving the building.

They pass a board laden with carpet samples and come to a halt in front of the next partition. It reads, "Universal casket."

Betty: Look, Ira, why not take care of it right here and now. These Costco caskets are stunning, and with six designs to choose from, there is something for every taste.

Ira: I know. I can so see you in that salmon-color Kentucky Rose model — so you.

Betty: And you know we'll get our money's worth, all $799 of it. All we have to do is select which of the six designs we want, pay at the register, and allow 48 hours for delivery.

Ira: Oh, honey, I can't wait to see how you look in your coffin.

Betty: Best part is, Costco offers a 100 percent return guarantee. We can always send them back. — Joanne Green

Tough Trip
Filed under: Scanner

St. Petersburg Times reporter William Levesque has undergone two rounds of chemotherapy and two surgeries. He has been hospitalized three times and takes eight different medications per day.

But despite Levesque's poor health, Miami Federal Judge José E. Martinez this past Friday denied his request to quash a subpoena requiring him to appear in Miami this month to testify in a criminal trial about comments a defendant made during an interview with the reporter in 2004. Levesque, who lives in Tampa, fought the subpoena, arguing that a combination of cancer, journalistic privilege, and the fact that he doesn't remember anything about the interview should exempt him from having to appear as a witness.

The trial has been postponed until later this month.

Levesque, who is on disability leave, did not respond to e-mail and voicemail requests for an interview. Alison Steele, an attorney for the St. Petersburg Times, said the paper thought it was "unusual" for the judge to compel a reporter to testify in a federal court case.

The case Levesque is being asked to testify in concerns a Pasco County company accused of a $12 million fraud scheme. In 2004, the reporter interviewed the company's president.

Prosecutors have not requested that Levesque turn over his notes, which sometimes happens in cases when journalists testify. Not that it would matter: Levesque doesn't have them anymore. — Carl Jones

Holiday Advice from Julio Anta, Your Local Hung Gar Kung Fu Master
Grab that jack-o'-lantern and exercise with it like a medicine ball or a kettle bell. Pumping pumpkin can become a fun family holiday tradition. (See photo above.) — Calvin Godfrey

Down on Town Centers
A town center has become, in my mind, a euphemism for a NIMBY-like community which is giving a half-assed attempt to create an urban culture, with sufficient parking for all Mercedes Benzes, of course. Town centers build upon the urban concept without factoring in public transit, mobility, or any other neighborhood in the vicinity.
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Joanne Green
Carl Jones
Rob Jordan
Contact: Rob Jordan