Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: The Water Fountain Returns as Metaphor for Division in St. Louis

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: The Water Fountain Returns as Metaphor for Division in St. Louis

Article excerpt

On Monday, children who live a mere 9 miles apart will have a very different experience as they seek that most basic of needs, a sip of water to quench their thirst.

At Mann Elementary School in the city of St. Louis, drinking from the hallway water fountain won't be allowed.

There will be yellow tape around the drinking fountains, almost marking the water sources as crime scenes, which is what they are.

Thirty school buildings in the city of St. Louis have elevated lead levels in their drinking water, according to a summer study sparked by the Flint, Mich., lead poisoning crisis.

At Mann and 29 other schools, students will be provided bottled water until the problem is fixed.

About 19 minutes away, at Reed Elementary School in Ladue, in the 63124 ZIP code that often ranks as one of the wealthiest in the country, the water will be cold and clean.

In fact, the drinking fountain might soon find itself practically gold-plated, with the inscription of a generous donor's name reminding thirsty students that they live in a place where clean water is a privilege.

Last year, the voters in Ladue passed an $85 million bond issue to build new schools and update already first-class facilities. But that wasn't enough money to satisfy their parched sense of entitlement.

So the Ladue Education Foundation decided to seek hundreds of thousands more dollars maybe even millions from the region's deep- pocketed elite by selling naming rights to rooms and hallways, performing arts centers and football stadiums, and, yes, water fountains.

The price to name a drinking fountain in your honor at the public schools in Ladue is $3,000.

It's a pittance.

Naming the cafeteria or football stadium will cost a donor $600,000.

The performing arts center lists for $1.5 million.

A biology lab retails for a mere $10,000.

This monument to excess, while children two ZIP codes away have been sucking poisonous lead into their tiny bodies for who knows how long, brings to mind the words of Judge Byron Kinder in his landmark decision in 1993 declaring the Missouri school funding scheme as "irrational" and unconstitutional.

Pointing to the wide disparity in school funding in the state, where areas with financial means raise their property taxes to provide the latest in technology, while poor districts get by with borrowed textbooks and leaky roofs, Kinder wrote that school funding in Missouri, and in St. Louis specifically, ranged from "the golden to the God-awful."

It's hard to imagine anything more God-awful than children who live in a city in which they often ingest lead paint in their older, run-down rental homes, then go to school and swallow more of the IQ- robbing heavy metal, courtesy of the taxpayers. Meanwhile, children mere blocks away get gold-plated water fountains in hallways paved with engraved bricks (that will be $350, please). …

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