School crisis? Let's throw money at it

Tuesday, August 25, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Big league, that's what we wanted to be.

We were scared to death that we might lose our football team to Cleveland and our baseball team to God knows where, so we agreed to throw money at them. Latest figures on the two stadiums, parking, road work and interest on the debt total nearly $1.5 billion.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati Public Schools are in an "academic emergency," according to the state Department of Education. Ohio's public schools are woefully under-funded, and the state is asking the wrong people for money, according to Ohio's Supreme Court.

Bragging rights

I wonder what would happen if we decided to throw money at our schools. Just throw money. Lots of it. As much as we could scrape up, as often as they need it. Just like we have done for the Reds and the Bengals. What if the same business interests that decided they needed to be able to promise Bengals home games on their recruitment brochures would decide that outstanding urban public schools would be an important lure to prospective employees?

What if this community -- we big league big spenders -- decided our goal would be to have the best urban school district in the United States? What if Procter & Gamble and Kroger and Cinergy and Cincinnati Bell could honestly report to prospective employees and transferees that the city schools of Cincinnati are the best in the nation?

Spending $10,000 a year to send Dilbert Jr. to private school? Well, come to Cincinnati and get a better school free of charge, they might say.

Even if you didn't have kids, wouldn't you like to work in a place like that? Don't excellent schools imply all sorts of other things? Most of us assume that good students are not going to be taking the hubcaps off our cars or stealing our stereos.

They are too busy studying -- finding out things that will later enable them to take out our gall bladders or fix our plumbing.

Start with buildings

This would be expensive, no doubt about it. There would be waste. Some. But what if we invested, say, $1.5 billion on this project. We could fix the old, beautiful school buildings and raze and replace the ones that are cheesy and dilapidated.

We could make sure they're all air-conditioned so we'll be ready for the time when we come to our senses and educate our kids 12 months of the year -- including the hot ones. We could make sure that the electrical systems can handle computers.

Let's pretend money is no object (the way we do when we talk about building new sports palaces). We would hire more librarians and counselors. We'd pay our teachers top dollar. Bonuses.

Surely we could get the most talented educators in the country if we went after them with the same ferocity and open wallets we use when we are chasing running backs and pitchers. And while we're throwing all this money around, we could get some specialized help for the classroom teacher.

Little Chloe and Auggie arriving hungry? Get more cooks. Serve more meals. Buster and Jeannie having trouble with reading? Hire a tutor. Jason and Amy causing trouble in class? Get somebody to sit on them.

Cincinnati would lead the way.

This is all a huge fantasy, of course.

The reality is two more weeks of hearings in a Perry County courthouse. The state will tell what it plans to do to raise, spend and borrow money for schools. And a common pleas court judge we didn't elect and most of us haven't heard of will decide if he approves.

The reality is that when Gov. George Voinovich threatened Cincinnati would become a "minor league community" unless the stadium sales tax passed, we agreed to cough up the money.

But we appear to be willing to settle for bush league schools.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at