We eat gas for lunch.

The Dayton Daily (I can’t bear the idea anymore of including the word “News” with their name) tells us Chick-fil-A Express is closing downtown:

The Chick-fil-A Lunch Express restaurant at 10 W. Second St. in downtown Dayton will close at the end of business Friday, Sept. 24,

via Chick-fil-A’s downtown Dayton restaurant to close | Taste: Dayton food and restaurants.

Calling it a restaurant was kinda a misnomer- as they didn’t prepare food there- it was delivered from other outlets. It was more like a food vending cart with a roof and walls. It wasn’t that long ago that Roly-Poly slipped out of Downtown as well. So the question becomes where do all these people who supposedly still work downtown eat? And, if we filled those office buildings back up- where would they eat?

You can go to Google to find restaurants downtown as easily as I can- and there are quite a few independent, unique places left. There are also a few chains- but, nowhere near what there was in the 50s – 70s. Places like Suttmiller’s on Main which could seat hundreds, the Grub Steak just a few blocks north. Dominic’s on S. Main was another large dining room. All gone, and replaced with smaller places that seat at most 100.

What’s changed? Some companies like the Dayton Daily have their own cafeteria- which also enforces a “No delivery” policy. CareSource has a cafe which I hear is quite good (I’m no longer friends with my friend who works there). Delivery has become more common- with places like Pizza Factory running catering downtown- but, the entire business of “lunch” has changed.

Two factors seem to explain it:

We’re so car centric the idea of driving to Brown Street, or Coco’s, or points elsewhere has normalized. Note, this results in much lower productivity (even with cell phones in cars) – in that what was an hour lunch is now almost always closer to two hours by the time you figure in travel and parking. Yes folks, the end of the walkable business district has cost us in productivity.

The second factor is the “Mad Men” factor- the death of the three-martini lunch. By the mid-80s when I started my business career, the last of the cocktails at lunch crowd was still hanging on, but by 1990, you were hard pressed to even see a beer served with lunch, even if it’s a burger. Alcohol made the lunch trade desirable- and profitable. The change in the “acceptable behavior” of the “power lunch” hurt the restaurant industry and downtown as a power center.

While we’re flailing about trying to determine a way to bring back downtown of yore- maybe we should also look at bringing back the “day rate” for hotel rooms- as the mid-afternoon tryst, without worry of cars being seen together at a motel (note the last of these motels along S. Dixie and Keowee either have gone to X-rated movies in room- or closed)?

And while office spaces are being built at Austin Pike despite our huge inventory of available space, I fear that they too will find themselves hurting in the long run. When gas goes back up to $4 a gallon, and the traffic becomes even more congested as they try to head up to the Dayton Mall to eat- they’ll find that the “gas for lunch” deal isn’t all that great.

The only developers who’ve gotten the formula right are Steiner and Associates with their faux downtown at The Greene. Here is the last place where lunch and parking and shopping come together. It’s that model, and only that model that will make downtown come back. Free parking in large garages, wide sidewalks, highly visible security people on Segways and, a few places where a Martini at lunch might not be frowned upon.

And while a circulating light rail, a readily available bike share system and a unified parking rate and signage system downtown could help somewhat- unfortunately the modern lunch experience will most likely to continue with “Gentlemen (and ladies), Start your engines.”

Dayton Public Schools untold stories: Thurgood Marshall HS

I think what bothers me most about the no-bid contract that Dayton Public Schools awarded to an out-of-town “PR Firm” is the stories that aren’t being told. It’s not just the PR firm that’s failed- it’s the leadership of the system that has allowed the public to hear all the bad things and practically none of the good.

Believe it or not- there are good things happening in Dayton Public Schools. Not that it’s been that way all the time, but starting with Superintendent Kurt Stanic with his buck-stops-here demeanor, DPS stopped being a citywide babysitting service and started focusing on discipline and learning in every building.

New principals were installed across the district, and although scores remained lower than we’d like- they’ve started to slowly move up. Considering the number of special needs students, the poverty rate and the mobility rate (many DPS students change schools every few years) the transformation has been pretty dramatic to those who know more than what they read in the Dayton Daily News, or just rely on the State Report Card.

I’ve written about Principal David Lawrence a few times on this site, today, I gave up on the idea of getting him to come in to my office to tape- and went to visit him at 12:30 in the afternoon (it’s Sunday) at TM- he’d been there since 6:30 am. In the video you’ll notice a future TM student- but, please ignore her fidgeting, she’s 7.

We talk about what’s changed at Thurgood Marshall, what they are proud of, the makeup of the student body, test scores and what makes a difference in the student success.

I’ve been out to TM several times during the school day- and have also spoken to students there. I’ve been to their football and basketball games- I’ve seen the transformation taking place. There is a story unfolding there- and this short video does little to tell it, but at least it’s a start.

David Lawrence isn’t the only principal working with a team of talented educators in the district, there are many others. David White at Belmont is transforming what was a zoo, into a disciplined school, Devon Berry at Ruskin is implementing a community based school based on the work of Geoffry Canada and the Harlem Children’s zone, Erin Dooley has turned Stivers into a nationally recognized school of performing arts- and that’s just a start.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for the haters to ignore these transformations because the district does a horrible job of tooting its own horn and the Dayton Daily News is the best grave digger on the planet.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to share some more of these stories over the next few months.

Why Dayton doesn’t need a “strong Mayor”

The latest “silver bullet” solution to be floated by the Republican party and a few others who think they already run this town is to switch to a strong-mayor form of government. Abracadabra- and all our troubles will be gone.

I say horse-hockey and here is why.

We don’t change horses anyway- preferring to ride the same names until we can’t stand them anymore. Case in point- there have only been two incumbents beaten in a general election (who didn’t win the seat in a special) in the last 20+ years. The exception were both when unknowns ran against an incompetent. Turner beat Dixon by 400 votes, and Leitzell beat McLin by 800. Both incumbents had been tarnished by election time- and had alienated the union power base that swings votes.

[I STAND CORRECTED] – Turner was beat by McLin in 2001- by a little over 1000 votes- as Turner was getting ready to run for Congress for a seat that was made for him.

If we can’t hold the people we now elect accountable for incompetence, why would changing the structure change things?

It’s funny- when Dean Lovelace couldn’t get elected the first three general elections he ran in- he wanted to change the Commission to a vote by district. Once he won- in a special election, you never heard another peep out of him about districts. He’s also been re-elected over and over, despite having cost the taxpayers dearly with his intervention in the hiring processes- and wasted time passing ordinances that got stomped by the state as soon as they were passed as law.

But- the real reason we don’t need a strong mayor comes down to the same reason John Patterson didn’t want one back in 1913- he was trying to take the influence peddling and politics out of a professional organization. As it is- the mayor and the commission are all careful of the unions- leaving the city manager to do the dirty work of negotiations. Put an elected mayor back in – and the unions will have an even stronger arm in deciding who they will bargain with. Right now- they have to have at least three commissioners in their pocket- which they’ve been able to do, make it just the mayor- and look out.

It’s not like we’ve had stellar candidates to run this city either by election or selection anyway. The city manager job pays $150K a year, the mayor gets $45K – even combining these two positions barely breaks $200K which isn’t even 2/3rds of what the Dayton Development Coalition pays their slick talking CEO. You want to make the Dayton mayor the most powerful person in the region- you are going to have to both pay the position- and give them a regional bully pulpit.

The real solution is to regionalize government, and then have a strong Mayor- paying one person to be Mayor- instead of having the current 28 or so Minor Mayors with their little fiefdoms. Do that- and you have a program worth considering.

Making the Mayor of Dayton more powerful is just one more attempt at diverting attention away from what’s really killing our city (greater) and not solving a single problem.

If the City is desperate for strong leadership- here is a better solution- stop electing Mayors- and let the four commissioners hire a City Manager/Mayor who has a vote on the Commission. And, when you decide to fire the Mayor/City Manager- the people who hire him have to go back up on the ballot. Now that would be interesting.

Free Shakespeare tonight thru Sunday in South Park

South Park is my neighborhood- and for the last three years this neighborhood has shown its community spirit and hipness by presenting the Bard, for free- in the ‘hood. A good number of the actors and support people live in the neighborhood.

Consider yourself invited to this year’s production of Romeo and Juliet- updated to take place in America around the time of Dayton’s birth:

FAST FACTS ON SHAKESPEARE IN SOUTH PARK ROMEO AND JULIET

Dates: Fri-Sun, Sept 17-19, 2010

Time: 8 PM-11PM

Place: South Park Green, Hickory & James

Bring: A lawn chair or blanket

Admission: Free, donations accepted

or call (937) 603-4893 for information.

Parking: Hope Lutheran or Emerson Academy

Rain Location: Hope Lutheran Church

via Romance & Tragedy take over South Park Green.

And, as a note- while the performance is free to attend, it isn’t free to produce. I’ll be there hawking for donations at the end of each show (it’s a talent I seem to have down well). Don’t feel obliged, but- if you enjoy Shakespeare under the stars- done by locals, and want it to continue, your support will be appreciated.

Dayton Public Schools and the state report card

If I ran a dating site and described each member by height, weight, and eye color and nothing else, how many people do you think would be happy about their dates?
The state report card has become the metric for measuring schools of late- leaving out all the nuances that make up a school or a district.
That the Dayton Public Schools have been continuously improving isn’t what makes the local paper- or any big jumps in performance at schools like Thurgood Marshall High School. No, what makes the paper is that:

Eight of the 10 best performing schools in the city of Dayton are now charter schools, according to 2009-10 state Report Card data.

via Eight of city’s top 10 schools are charters.

It’s headlines like these that hurt Dayton Public Schools- but, aren’t brutal because most Dayton Public Schools parents don’t read the paper. What’s brutal is how these stories will get manipulated and spun and then “telephoned” to other parents. The difference being- charter schools are businesses that depend on recruiting students to stay open and get funding (right out of the DPS budget) and Dayton Public Schools, well, they just sit there and take it.

Emerson Academy down the street has had a sign up for months saying “Be a part of a top ten school”- they have a nice big four-color brochure (8 pages, not a little trifold) that sells the school and is mailed to households without kids- just because they know they need to toot their horn to everyone, and they need to recruit the students with parents who care and get involved- because parental involvement is probably the second highest indicator for success in school- right after income level.

Dayton Public Schools on the other hand- takes all comers, including those with special needs. Twenty percent of DPS students fall into that category- making it incredibly hard to pull average report card numbers up- and keep budgets under control. Special needs by the way- besides including those with learning handicaps, also includes students who don’t speak English as a primary language. DPS has a school, Patterson Kennedy, that would give the UN a run for its money on number of languages spoken. And, DPS also includes programs that the state report card doesn’t measure- like music, arts, and athletics (there isn’t a charter school with a basketball team- yet, I keep waiting for a charter prep boys basketball school, that can recruit regionally and screw the OSHSAA)

Because it’s the biggest school district (even after losing so many students to charter schools) it becomes the focal point of the region. Dayton Public Schools aren’t very good is a message that gets broadcast across the state- instead of a message like “Stivers School of the Arts” is one of the top in the country- or, we have four Gates scholars almost every year. This hurts in not only recruiting better students, with higher parental involvement- and higher income- but the whole region as we get lumped in as a loser community. Sure, Dunbar won the state hoops title, but, the scores for the school are low (forget about those special needs students or poverty levels).

These shallow one-sided looks at the district performance hurt our property values, hurt our communities’ ability to recruit new people, and sustain an image problem- that’s been in place since the deseg order of the seventies (which built the suburbs- as those who could afford to move did- causing the economic segregation gap to grow phenomenally).

Charter School Enrollment

Charter school Enrollment

How much is at stake? Because each charter school gets about $5k from DPS for each student, plus DPS has to pay for transportation and other services, it gets expensive. With 27% of the students choosing charters- that’s about 5,200 students, times $5 k each – you are seeing $26 million get drained from DPS coffers. Not exactly chump change- but when you start seeing these students help the charters become 8 of the top 10 schools- you can either draw one of two conclusions:

  1. Dayton Public Schools can’t educate and Charters can.
  2. Charters are siphoning off the best students and filtering out the poorest and special needs students.

Somehow I just don’t buy the first answer. I’m sure there are many who will disagree, but considering how many charters also end up on the bottom of the scale – I think we’re seeing the results of some good marketing and cherry-picking of students.

With Dayton Public Schools finally working their way back to “neighborhood schools” they should be able to boost parental involvement and create true learning communities. This has been the method of the charter that became a conversion school up the street in Twin Towers. Ruskin Elementary, in partnership with East End Community Services is working toward a complete learning community modeled after the work done by Geoffery Canada in Harlem.

Also, the Dayton Public Schools has managed to mismanage their PR for something like the last 11 superintendents. Somehow, the good parts of Dayton Public Schools haven’t come to the forefront of public perception. A lot of this can be blamed on the Dayton Daily News, the newspaper that loathes its host community. Nevermind that DPS has also been more likely to hire PR consultants for their political connections- instead of the quality of their work: Avakian Consulting, Penny Ohlman Neiman and now Burges & Burges of Cleveland on a no-bid contract. If there has been anything done to change the DPS brand- it’s been with the aide of the incompetent. (If you’d like examples- I have them- just not the time to post them all).

There is $26 million at stake in lost revenue. There are perception issues that can continue to make it harder for DPS to recruit and retain students who can perform well on standardized testing. It’s time to see a plan to counter these trends and work to solving this problem that will continue to fester and eventually kill the district if not dealt with properly.