By Paul Goldman
Editor's note: Paul Goldman is a guest columnist for DecisionVirginia.com. The views expressed below are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NBC12.
Sitting in the federal courtroom yesterday, I first heard about the report from the Richmond School Board on the incredible disrepair of the city’s K-12 educational facilities. For me, it put the whole surreal scene in perspective, underscoring the incredibly sad tragedy unfolding on the seventh floor of the U.S. Courthouse.
There sat Bob McDonnell, playing Marlon “I coulda been a contender” Brando from his Oscar winning performance as Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront. Let me explain. I last met face-to-face with then Governor McDonnell to discuss the increasing disrepair of Virginia's, indeed the nation’s, school buildings. Nearly ten years before, starting in 2005, I first started begging – the critics call it “Goldman’s latest crusade” - the Richmond School Board and Virginia’s governors to put school modernization at the top of their agenda.
My interest grew from developing a school modernization plan for then Mayor Doug Wilder, which in turn led me to discover a long-forgotten idea used by then Mayor Tim Kaine back in the 1990s to modernize the old Maggie Walker High School building. Built during the Great Depression but now an empty eyesore, Kaine used historic tax credit financing to turn it into the modern, high tech home for the nationally acclaimed Governor’s School.
Fact: The average K-12 building is considered wholly obsolete after reaching 40 years of age. Richmond’s school buildings average nearly 60 years of age, the normative first year of construction being 1955, around the time Dodger legend Jackie Robinson stole home plate before a disbelieving packed house in Yankee Stadium in the first game of the World Series. The typical K-12 facility in Virginia average 46 years of age, most over 50 years, roughly the national norm for such an educational statistic.
Let’s put this 50 year-old aging date in perspective. It means that the average Richmond school child is still attending a school during his or her senior year which was obsolete when their parents went to school in the Capitol City!
Democrats and Republicans agree having a modern 21st-century education is considered increasingly mandatory for a child to earn a good living. The average school in Richmond, Virginia and America lacks the infrastructure to teach a truly 21st-century education.
Heh: My “crusade” about opening up a statewide office for African-Americans and women didn’t do so bad during the 1980s did it?
So, Tim encouraged me not to give up, saying the glitch in the law now preventing the use of his concept could be fixed if people pushed for it.
Republican Governor McDonnell was willing to lead on his side of the aisle. So, he eventually ordered the first-ever statewide review of the physical condition of all of Virginia’s over 2000 K-12 facilities.
The results: The aged nature of the state’s K-12 facilities surprised him and his staff, one member being Mr. Tucker Martin, the brilliant press guy.
Yesterday, Tucker sat in the witness box, called by the prosecution to help make the government’s corruption case against his boss. Tucker knew the bottom line truth about education here in Richmond: The average child attends a school considered obsolete when his or her parents attend the school!! The average Virginia child attends, for all his or her K-12 life, an obsolete school building, incapable of truly teaching a 21st century education. You want to talk economic inequality or health inequality, then read the expert reports from Virginia Tech gurus and others.
But Mayor Jones and others would rather put $hundreds of thousands of dollars into lobbying to build a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.
Bob McDonnell had a chance to be an historic education governor, leading the coalition that changed education in America. Yesterday, presidential candidate Bob McDonnell could have been anywhere in America, holding a press conference surrounded by people from all walks of life thanking him fighting to give their kids an equal shot at the American dream.
Tucker could have spun that story big time.
Instead: He was in the witness box, playing a role in tragic scene even Shakespeare would have had a hard time topping.