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High Anxiety

Face facts: We can't afford to keep Schenley open

Hello, I'm the Grinch who stole Schenley High School. I'm the columnist who doesn't understand that grand architecture trumps everything, or that only tradition matters. I'm the one who fails to see that it doesn't matter whether refurbishing Schenley and getting rid of the asbestos will cost $64 million. And that it doesn't matter whether the school district can't really afford the money.

In this space, I have railed against Mayor Opie, the pro-smoking-in-public-spaces crowd, and of course, that whole nutty unnecessary Iraq war thing. But now I've struck a nerve. Now I'm getting some genuine venom. Because according to the critics, it is now I who simply do not get it -- much like the clueless Dubya in matters of war.

What's wrong with believing that perhaps it's actually true that we have too few students, too many buildings, and not enough money to support the school system as it is? But for stating this belief on my blog, I've been accused of "patent sophistry," among other things.

"Sophistry," according to my Internet dictionary, is "a subtle, tricky, superficially plausible, but generally fallacious method of reasoning." But my reasoning here, as usual, is not particularly subtle: We don't have the money.

That's about it. It's not particularly tricky. Superficially speaking, the district is running out of do-re-mi. I believe they ran out of fa-so-la-ti years ago.

Follow the money. There ain't enough.

Many of the "Save Schenley" folk correctly point out that it is an excellent school, with a commendable record of educating students. It's a school where diversity thrives, we're told.

OK, maybe I'm a little thick, but if you've got excellent teachers and students in one building, and you put them in another building, will they cease to be excellent? Is it, in fact, the precise combination of those humans in that building at this moment in time that produces great results? Will any other combination somehow rupture the time-space continuum, rendering the teachers and students dumbstruck? I don't get it.

I do get this: There is a conspiracy theory afoot.

Now, I don't dismiss conspiracy theories out of hand. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in shooting President Kennedy. I think federal Judge Arthur Schwab is going out of his way to be unfriendly to indicted former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht. (I mean, naming an anonymous jury, as if Wecht were Bugsy Malone? Please.) So I believe in hidden agendas. I'm just not sure there's one here. I'm willing to take Superintendent Mark Roosevelt at his word that he's looking for ways to save money, of which he does not have enough. Did I mention that?

In this case, the conspiracy theorists are convinced that the bean-counters are in charge of education, and that this is a bad thing. I agree that the bean-counters should not outweigh principals and superintendents and parents and teachers. But someone's got to count the beans. And basically, we don't have nearly enough of them. We've got too few students for as many beans as we throw around. That's why we can't afford 64 million beans to pay for tradition and sentimentality and the stuck-in-the-pastness that is a hallmark of Pittsburgh.

If you think Superintendent Roosevelt is lying, then fine, this is an evil plot. Plus, there's the history of replacing good with ugly in the 'Burgh, as one of my critics pointed out in an e-mail: "Look at the site of the Syria Mosque, St. Peter Episcopal church, the old skyscraper with the outdoor fresco of sports figures, et bloody cetera. All the fucking replacements are ugly and stupid."

Last week's City Paper included a column that understandably expressed skepticism toward housing grades 6 through 12 under one roof. No, I wouldn't want a 17-year-old boy staring at my 11-year-old daughter when she was at school. But Schenley is still too expensive.

As I understand it, we can't tear Schenley down because of its historic designation. And while some fear that closing it is merely a plot to sell the building, what's wrong with that? We can't afford the grandeur. And if it's truly the building that's magic, rather than the staff, we're in a heap of trouble anyway.

We have to close Schenley because we don't have enough money. Did I mention that?

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