Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Adamowski fostered solid business base

By Cliff Peale, cpeale@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Steven Adamowski's departure means corporate Cincinnati will lose a powerful voice for reform and private investment in the city's school system, business leaders say.

        But executives insisted Monday night that the district must continue the reforms started by the departing superintendent.

        “It's not like it'll come to an end,” said John Pepper, the retiring chairman of Procter & Gamble Co. and a longtime supporter of the school district and a citywide mentoring program called Cincinnati Youth Collaborative.

        “We'll just have to be sure with his replacement to get someone who can continue the progress. This ship is turned, but it's sure got a long way to sail.”

        Like in most cities, local corporations and the people who run them have been heavily involved in the 42,000-student Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) district. Those ties strengthened in 1991 with the Buenger Commission study on CPS' business practices.

        Since then, executives have been deeply involved in raising money for school levies, supporting school-board candidates and advising district administrators.

        In 2000, for example, Tristate businesses contributed $400,000 to the campaign to pass a school tax levy.

        Mr. Adamowski has received widespread support from Tristate CEOs appreciative of his no-nonsense, business-like approach. That has enabled CPS to attract more investment from local companies.

        “He is committed to reducing the bureaucracy and allowing the schools to operate with partners,” said Jack Cassidy, president and chief operating officer at Cincinnati Bell.

        The company contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money, employee assistance and student incentives in theredesign of Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School.

        The low-performing West End school was wired before the 2001-2002 school year with computer equipment so students could learn the latest in information technology, along with standard subjects. Bell employees also donated thousands of hours to tutor students, as well as paint, wire and improve Taft's building.

        Mr. Cassidy said he thought the momentum could continue with more business partnerships with high schools.

        Over the years, Tristate businesses have provided expertise — and sometimes, employees — in such areas as marketing, accounting and finance.

        Some critics have questioned the closeness of the CPS-business community relationship, contending the district takes too much direction from the region's influential Cincinnati Business Committee. That group, comprised of roughly two dozen CEOs and top executives, has made education a priority.

        Scott Borgemenke, who was the CBC's executive director when Mr. Adamowski was hired in 1998, said executives didn't conduct the search, but they did talk with the top candidates to convince them CPS had the support of businesses.

        “I think the business community has been crucial to the success the school system has had,” said Mr. Borgemenke, now a political consultant in Columbus. "Ninety-five percent of it is done behind the scenes to get best practices for Cincinnati businesses and apply them to the schools.”

        The help is necessary because superintendents need business expertise, Mr. Borgemenke said.

        “So much of running a school system is being a business leader, as well as being an educator,” he said.

        Michael Fisher, president of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, said business partnerships in specific schools and an ambitious $1 billion building program were only part of Mr. Adamowski's contribution.

        “He certainly has contributed to cultural change,” Mr. Fisher said. “Hopefully, that foundation still is there.”


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