Sunday, November 3, 2002

Sorry, Mr. Pepper, no can do



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"Mr. Pepper would like to send you a fax," his secretary said. This particular Pepper is John, retired Procter & Gamble chief.

Why?

"Well, I think he wants you to do something on Issue 2," she answered.

Uh-oh.

I hate to refuse. Not because I owe Mr. Pepper anything. He has never once given me a discount on my Tide or offered to send me a free vat of Febreeze. I just like him. I think he's a nice man and a good citizen. And I admire his unflagging devotion to Cincinnati's Public Schools.

Still, I can't write anything about Issue 2, which asks voters to approve an ambitious and expensive plan to build 35 new schools and renovate 31 others. Frankly, I just can't think of anything new to say.

Does anybody still believe you can have a good community if you have bad schools?

Do we think sitting in an icy draft during the winter will improve test scores?

Or that dancing nimbly out of the way of falling plaster will make a kid smarter and more resourceful?

Shameful conditions

The school board says the bottom line is: "Would you want your child to be in a classroom that has holes in the ceiling, drafty windows and leaky roofs?"

But, of course, not all city residents have children who attend Cincinnati Public Schools. Some are childless. Some are empty nesters. Some send their children to parochial and private schools.

The better question would be: Even if you don't have children, even if you don't like children, would you really want to live in a place where people grow up to be ignorant and hopeless?

This one is not about teacher salaries or art supplies or musical instruments. This is not about lesson plans and test results. This is a simple plea to voters to fix up the plant, the place where the complicated business of learning takes place.

If the bond issue passes, it will generate $480 million and cost the owner of a house with a market value of $100,000 about $143 a year. If Cincinnati were known to have the best public schools on the Planet Earth, imagine how valuable that $100,000 house would then be.

It's a pretty good investment.

Surely, most people already know it's cheaper to build a good kid than to fix a ruined adult. And the smaller they are, the cheaper it is. Day care costs less than remedial reading tutors. Tutors in elementary schools are cheaper than armed guards and metal detectors in high schools. And all these things are cheaper than a lifetime of incarceration.

Furthermore, most of us already know that we work better in an office with good lighting, a place that's neither too cold nor too hot. And we'd be offended if the roof leaked on our desk when it rained. We would be distracted. Demoralized.

So, I would like to say something persuasive, something that might cause a voter to punch YES on Issue 2. But I have to be honest, Mr. Pepper.

There's really nothing new to say.

E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.



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