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You've Got to Coordinate 

The recent efforts to keep Harrah's from closing, keep the Saints in New Orleans and bring NBA basketball back to New Orleans made me realize that we're taking the wrong approach to solving the problems of New Orleans' beleaguered public school system. You see, the schools on their own don't seem to generate enough interest to garner the attention and funding they need to be really effective.

What I mean is this: Superintendent Alphonse Davis has put forth valiant efforts to garner public and government support to help improve physical structures and student performance. The response so far, though, has been lukewarm compared to the firestorm stirred up by a proposed Saints departure.

Theoretically, we're interested in having well-run, properly funded public schools. In reality though, no one has the interest in or the guts to suggest providing additional revenue through (gasp) property taxes or other measures. So, teachers are still underpaid, the system's physical structures are about $1 billion away from being up to standard, and I am of the far-fetched belief that nasty school buildings and teachers who can't seem to get paid on time -- much less paid well -- do not a productive learning environment make. So, I've got a couple suggestions, suggestions that integrate -- or coordinate, if you will -- public education with the local institutions that we seem to care about the most.

1) Forget about repairing those ancient, crumbling school buildings. Sell them to Pres Kabacoff and let him turn them into luxury condos. Then, let's build Tom Benson the stadium of his dreams. A sparkling new mega-dome. One big enough to house enough luxury suites to push Tom Benson into the billionaire boys club, make the Saints the envy of the NFL ... and house 80,000 New Orleans public school students.

The giant stadium's state-of-the-art suites and meeting rooms could contain walls that shift and turn to allow for chalkboards and bulletin boards Monday through Friday and elegant appointments for luxury suite-goers on Sundays and during special events. I'm sure somebody's got the technology.

Since stadium gigantica would require a huge maintenance staff anyway, they could make sure the transition from school to special event/sporting venue goes smoothly. Think of it. School children would never have to worry about underfunded, un-air-conditioned, rat-infested facilities, because no one would ever let a sporting arena fall into such disrepair. Plus, with the schools' physical facilities budget covered by the sporting arena, all the education monies could go toward things like text books, science and computer labs, and competitive teacher salaries -- salaries that aren't couched with bullshit excuses like "the cost of living here is cheaper" and "it exceeds the Gulf Coast average," but that actually pay people what they're worth.

2) OK, so you think the mega-dome idea is a bit much. How about this? Say the Grizzlies decide to head our way. We install them in the new sports arena. Get Arthur Q. Davis to make a few adjustments and add a couple floors of classrooms -- and a few more luxury suites -- and we move all New Orleans middle school students into the arena. Now, this plan doesn't free up as much facilities money as the mega-dome idea, but it's a start. And it's got an added bonus.

During Grizzly workouts at the sports arena/middle school, a rotating group of students can serve as towel and water boys/girls. Everybody wins here. The New Orleans Grizzlies' will have the largest support staff in the NBA (a big selling point for the city's pursuit of future professional sports teams), and the kids will get a clean, secure, climate-controlled facility and gain valuable skills for future work in New Orleans' tourism/hospitality industry. Plus, with the workout they'll get fetching towels and water, they're sure to obtain an exceptional level of cardiovascular fitness.

3) We let Harrah's build the biggest hotel possible, adding enough floors on top of the present casino to house hordes of high rollers and a couple thousand high school students. Yep, while the middle school students are installed in the arena, high school students can take their classes at Harrah's newest hotel property (in a section of the hotel encased in high-tech, soundproofing material, of course). The added bonus here? Internships at the casino where the kiddies will learn valuable accounting, math and people skills.

And that, folks, is how you fix public education in New Orleans.


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