Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Reforms led by educator helped plan

By Gregory Korte, gkorte@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Supporters of a bond levy to fund the Cincinnati Public Schools' rebuilding plan say the departure of Superintendent Steven Adamowski could not have come at a worse time.

        “It's like losing Ken Griffey Jr. to another team on the eve of the World Series,” said political strategist Brewster Rhoads, a veteran of many levy campaigns. “I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say it's no big deal. But it just means people on the bench have to step up the plate.”

        The $985 million school building plan, which will rebuild or replace 66 schools in the district, would almost certainly have come together with or without Mr. Adamowski as superintendent.

        But it was the reforms going on inside those buildings that gavevoters the confidence to support school tax increases, school supporters said.

        Those reforms have included the restructuring of failing high schools, linking teacher pay to performance and moving budget decisions from the central office to the schools.

        “Everyone in Cincinnati has supported the schools because they thought we had an exceptional superintendent, and it's going to be hard to reassure people that the school program can be carried out without his superintendency,” said Donald A. Spencer, a former teacher and longtime education activist.

        Cincinnati Councilman David Crowley, the chairman of the council's education subcommittee, said a change at the school administration building won't affect City Hall's support for the building plan. Whether it has any broader impact remains to be seen, he said.

        “I can't pretend it's nothing. I wish like hell he'd have waited until after the bond issue was passed, but that's his choice,” he said.

        “Obviously, when you lose a leader — particularly a guy whose taken such a lead on these reforms, and has been the intellectual guru behind them — you're going to have slowdowns, missteps, et cetera,” Mr. Crowley said.

        Mr. Adamowski's September departure means there's still plenty of time for him to help the school board find a successor.

        If the board decides to put a bond levy on the ballot — a decision it will have to make by mid-August — the new superintendent will have, at the most, just two months to instill public confidence.

        Still, Mr. Rhoads said it would be a mistake for the school board to delay a vote on the bond issue until next year.

        “I have reason to believe there is a real sea-change in public attitudes about Cincinnati Public Schools,” he said. “I think there's a certain sense of momentum. The public understands that these buildings are in disrepair. Nothing about the need has changed. Why wait? A delay might make it all the more difficult to address the problem.”


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