- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Fix the schools.

That appeal has become the self-serving mantra of the anti-ballpark brigade in the city.

The purpose is to disarm those who embrace the vision of a publicly funded ballpark along the Anacostia River waterfront in Southeast.

It is an intellectually dishonest course, for the broken-down D.C. public school system remains impervious to the best intentions, whether the ball club plays at RFK, on Half Street or in a pasture in Loudoun County.

The embarrassing performance of the city’s public schools is an old wound, hardly germane to the ballpark discussion. If money were the answer, the D.C. public school system would be among the nation’s leaders, judging from its per-pupil expenditure.

D.C. officials are forever pumping tax money into a system that provides only a illusionary return. It fools no one. Those with the means to do so send their children to private schools or move to stronger school districts in the suburbs.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council members can resolve the issue of the ballpark however they like. If they want, they can call up Bud Selig to say, “On fifth thought, keep the team.”

But let’s be clear on one point: The D.C. public school system will remain an embarrassment until the system adopts reform from within, which is not going to happen anytime soon.

We are talking about a system whose function in part is to protect the jobs of the incompetent. We are talking about a system that goes through superintendents like tissue paper. Each superintendent comes to the city with a bright idea or three but eventually leaves in disappointment after succumbing to the weight of the dysfunction.

We can argue all day about the merit of the new ballpark, about corporate welfare that reeks as badly as the Blue Plains Plant, about the end-around of Linda W. Cropp and about the unseemliness of eminent domain. These are all good talking points. There are others as well. All are beside the point if the cause is public education.

The fix-the-schools brigade should be angry, all right. They should be angry that their tax dollars are flushed down a black hole. They should be angry with a political structure that is forever digging deeper and deeper into their pockets and giving shoddy public services in return. They should be angry with the graft, the waste and the absence of basic standards, such as picking up a telephone.

Long ago, if this were not the bluest of the tax-happy blue precincts in America, the oppressed denizens of this city would have heeded the words of Howard Beale.

They would have risen from their chairs, gone to their windows, stuck out their heads and yelled: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

So be mad. Be frothing-at-the-mouth, histrionic-personality-disorder mad if you like. But don’t confuse the city’s rotten public school system with the proposed ballpark. The latter means nothing to the former.

And really, why balk at the mayor’s intentions to revitalize the waterfront area of the so-called “forgotten river?” The plan could work.

Instead, revel in your blueness. Tell those at the Wilson Building to raise your taxes even higher. It is hard to imagine why a city that loves taxes as much as this one would draw a chalk line on the asphalt over this latest tax plan.

Democrats always know how to spend your money better than you know how to spend it. That is what being blue is all about. To be blue is to believe in the merit of wealth redistribution, even if part of your tax bill goes to the incompetent, the sleepy, the missing and the dead.

Tell you what: Give every teacher in the city a $10,000 raise as a symbolic way of saying, “Books come first.”

Pay for it by employing a gross-shoes tax on those who own more than four pairs of shoes.

The beret-wearing, Che Guevara T-shirt types probably would be happy to assuage their material guilt with a gross-shoes tax.

And give the city’s public schools this: They are fairly good at turning out the Future Car Jockeys of America.

A new ballpark actually could provide the car jockeys with a wonderful business opportunity.

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