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For 2nd Year, Education Tops Coleman State Of The City Address

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman delivered his 15th State of the City address, last night, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. And education headlined the speech. The Battelle Grand Ballroom was standing room only for Mayor Coleman’s annual speech during which he touted the redeveloped and booming Downtown area, as well as some of the city’s latest achievements: curbside recycling expansion, car and bike share programs and the creation of 3,700 new jobs last year. But the mayor gave a stern warning: “The greatest threat to the success of Columbus is our failure to prepare our children for the future.â€? A year ago, in the midst of a grade and attendance rigging investigation, Coleman focused on the academically struggling Columbus City Schools as he called on the city to “stack hands.â€? His Education Commission came up with dozens of recommendations, though few major reforms have taken place. And for the first time in two decades voters soundly defeated a school levy. “Our schools remain in crisis," Coleman said. More than half of the district’s third graders risk being held back if they cannot pass the reading guarantee, and this year Coleman called on parents. “Good schools are no substitute for good parents," he said. "The best school reading program will never be as effective as a parent reading with a child at home.â€? Coleman announced the city will spent $5 million on a pre-school program for four-year-olds set to begin this coming school year. He noted the city will collaborate with state and federal governments on the long-term program. Robert Wade is a unified arts teacher at Columbus City Schools. He said the pre-K initiative offers promise for the district. “It’s a start because we want our students to be prepared, and so it’s something that’s a very positive step for all of our students. And probably the earlier the better.â€? Education wasn’t the only issue on the mayor’s docket. He wants to secure a political convention in 2016. “The Republic or Democratic National Convention would create an infusion of jobs, revenue and international recognition while injecting millions into our economy," he said. One way the mayor may obtain a successful bid is to increase direct flights into Columbus. And Coleman has Port Columbus working on that. He wants a non-stop flight from San Francisco. But the mayor has bigger plans for Port Columbus. He has commissioned a task force to study whether Downtown and the airport can be connected by passenger rail. “The airport is geographically positioned to be a transportation center for rail service, bus service and more efficient car service. We need to explore the possibilities, what our options are for the future.â€? Short North Alliance executive director Betsy Pandora said bridging the airport with Downtown will be a “game changer." “You have to have the whole mix of it: direct flights, transit that goes from the airport into the city center and affordable options for everyone in terms of how they get around the city using public transit," Pandora said. Coleman has made many efforts during his tenure to revitalize Downtown and re-populate the area that once was vacant after work hours. But for many, living Downtown is not affordable. The city will use $11 million in capital funds over the next five years to help encourage more affordable housing in Downtown and other parts of the city. “I believe people should be able to live where they work whether it’s Downtown or around town.â€? The mayor addressed the city’s on-going sewer problems. Heavy rains can cause sewage overflow. Coleman said a $2.5 billion, 30-year initiative will convert vacant land into parks that will also serve as storm water treatment facilities. “We’ll keep storm water from entering sewers in the first place. We will divert water away from sewers toward rain gardens and surface water filters," he said. The mayor also announced plans to help one of the city’s most disadvantaged populations. He says the city will give the Community Shelter Board about $1 million to help fund a case management system that will individualize and improve services.