Friday, July 6, 2007

My Friend Says It’s The Schools
Our Town downtown
July 9, 2007

So my old Midwest-college friend lives in Westchester now with his second wife and a couple new kids and when, over beers in a little Mexican place in Mt. Kisco on July 4th, I again tried to get him to come to his senses and move back into the city with his new family, he said he understood all the reasons I was giving, but that the schools were much better up there, and that’s why people moved there from Manhattan.

I’ll get to the schools in a minute. No doubt they’re better there. But that’s not the definitive reason my buddy’s staying, or most of the others up there are. I think they just like living there. They use the schools as a cover, so you don’t see the real reasons, like how much they like walking into the back yard while they’re on their cell phones, or how handy it is that they have a washer and dryer right by the back door. Or that all their late-parents’ photos and dining room table chairs are right there in their basement instead of in a storage unit in Queens. I also think they like having a car with the ballgame on. And they like the playing fields nearby, and a library in town that stays lit until 9:00 at night. They can get the Times and bagels and pizza and Starbucks and the new Ian McEwan book right there on Main Street. That’s why they’re there, even though, of course they miss all the things I—or you—could throw at them to try again to get them to see how cool it truly is here. They may, indeed, from the remove of the suburbs, think the city is cooler than even we do; they just aren’t coming back yet. It’s the schools, they reiterate.

Let’s say it is the schools. No doubt schools are a big part of why they left and aren’t coming back for a while if ever. How can it be that the schools are worse here? Why would that be? Is the Merrill Lynch office worse here than the one in Stamford? Are the bagels not as good as in Armonk? Can you not buy Crocs here? Is there a bigger Bergdorf Goodman in Darien? Are there better musical theaters in Scarsdale than on Broadway? Of course not. Then how come all those places you can think of have better public schools than we do here?
Can it be a money thing? Does New York City not have the money? That can’t be, can it? There must be plenty of money, if the city can drive by the big brokerage houses and throw money—suitcases full of it—out the window at them to get them to stay here. There were more suitcase filled with loot, weren’t there, to throw at the Jets to get them to move into the city? There’s money. The city just doesn’t spend as much per pupil on its schools as Westchester towns do.

More is at work—or not at work—than that. My buddy’s oldest kid, from this new batch, before they moved did go to a public school here. It wasn’t bad, he says. But he mentioned this: there was a broken part of the outer door to the school. I think he said like a panel. It was broken when the school year began; it was still not fixed when school let out in June. Come on. That’s not because of money. I’d say that that’s a lack of will.

Maybe the lack of deep attention—the kind of deep attention that’s given, along with mountainous tax breaks, to brokerage houses—to the schools is because the city’s school kids are mostly minorities. You know that’s some of the reason. That has to be addressed. It is not being addressed enough. If it were, the schools would be better. How can we live here knowing not enough is being done for the kids and feel so good about living here?

—Bill Gunlocke

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