Monday, December 5, 2005

Yes, I’m going to say it again and again and again because, obviously, the message keeps falling on deaf ears:

What kind of city twists itself into a ballpark pretzel to give away millions to baseball owners but allows its disadvantaged children to go to school in crumbling buildings without textbooks?

D.C. leaders can talk until they’re red in the face about the benefits of hocking city coffers for future economic development to build a $535 million baseball stadium.

But their pittance of an investment in human capital not only is an embarrassment, it’s counterproductive.

What about the future of more than 50,000 D.C. students? They can’t learn and grow into productive citizens and taxpayers without the necessary educational resources.

How can city leaders pat themselves on the back for “negotiating” a stickup deal in time to sign a lease agreement with Major League Baseball before the Dec. 31 deadline, while far too many students don’t have textbooks, with nearly half of the school year gone?

This inexcusable error comes after yet another new superintendent was hired and after yet another law was passed to ensure that every student would have a textbook for his or her classes.

And we wonder why D.C. school students make minimal scores on standardized tests. Shame, double-shame.

Where is the political will, people? Where is the oversight responsibility of elected leaders? Where is the accountability of bureaucrats?

“All I want for Christmas is a textbook,” the D.C. public school student body will carol this yuletide.

“All I want for Christmas is toilet paper I don’t have to buy for the bathroom,” the kindergarten teachers write.

All I want for Christmas is the truth.

Is it really too much for D.C. parents to ask that their children go to a school where the plaster is not falling from the ceiling, where the room is warm, where the halls are safe from intruders? How about fully stocked library shelves or a working computer?

Oh please, Santa, please.

Of course, the litany of responses from the Usual Suspects of Scrooges will be:

“We [mayor, D.C. Council] gave, but they didn’t spend wisely.”

“We [school board, superintendent] spent wisely, but they didn’t give enough.”

Yesterday, a D.C. Council committee approved a bill that would pump millions of dollars into the city’s public schools. This hard-worn victory of tireless, frustrated school advocates came after months of delays and machinations.

But council members, who capitulated to Major League Baseball bullies, attached the kinds of strings they don’t place on their donors in the business community. They want to see a revised facilities plan by next May, and some want that plan to include a blueprint for closing or consolidating up to one-third of the city’s schools.

Indeed, a review is long overdue and has been promised numerous times, but closing schools should not be done simply to save money, because larger pupil-to-teacher ratios in classrooms will hurt the learning process.

Marc Borbely of Fix Our Schools, a D.C. advocacy group, said two committee members supported an amendment that would increase funds for schools, two voted against it and council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, was absent.

The committee approved the bill, but the amendment failed.

“So, good news [is] that something is moving forward, and good news that [the bill] is getting closer to full funding, but it’s still a half-funding bill.,” said Mr. Borbely, a former D.C. public school teacher.

“Part of the bill is dependent on future surpluses and growth, and that’s not acceptable. It’s gambling the kids’ future on the economy. Schools should get real money, not ‘ifs,’” he said.

Still, this million-dollar modernization plan must be authorized by the full council and the mayor. Let’s see if they’re inclined to move heaven and earth on the fast track to provide city students with a better learning environment.

Meanwhile, D.C. parents and children are supposed to thank their lucky stars that lots of slap-happy men and women who are not city taxpayers will be able to drink imported beer, smoke stogies, gorge on gourmet hot dogs and “root for the home team” in the plush surroundings of their new playground, paid for at more than their expense.

Is someone, somewhere choking? They ought to be.

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