Monday, August 31, 2009

Opposition To Governor And Mayoral Takeover Of MPS Grows

Major budget deficits plaguing City of Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin

By H. Nelson Goodson
August 31, 2009
Updated: September 1, 2009

Milwaukee -Governor Jim Doyle and Mayor Tom Barrett along with the common council president held a press conference on Monday at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to push for mayoral control of the Milwaukee Public School District (MPS). Their reasoning for the takeover was not motivated by any personal issue with any MPS board member, but that they just think a new approach is needed.
Both the mayor and the governor offered no further details about any proposed plan to reform MPS. The governor is applying for part of the $4.3 billion in federal school grants for public schools in Wisconsin, and the Obama administration needs to know the state is focusing on serious education reform.

At the press conference, MPS Board President Dr. Michael Bonds was present and disagreed with the governor and the mayor. He doesn't believe their approach would benefit the students in the long run. "I'm just here to find out some specifics and see what they could do different than the current board is doing," Bonds said.
To date, the mayor has no specific plan, but is working with legislators to draft one, and expect to debate the issue when they reconvene on September 15th, according to supporters of the mayor at the conference.
The supporters included several Latino administrators from a couple of community based organizations. Attending the press conference were Enrique Figueroa, Lupe Martinez, Ricardo Diaz, Maria Monreal-Cameron, José F. Vásquez, and Darryl Morin.
Doyle and Barrett want to tap into the proposed stimulus federal money geared for public education programs. Taxpayers are opposing the takeover and are focusing on the current budget deficits the City of Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin are facing in the next year or so. The State of Wisconsin is facing a $5.4 Billion by 2011, and the City of Milwaukee is facing a $90 million deficit by 2010. Mayor Barrett and Governor Doyle have not come close to balancing their own budget deficits and now they want to tackle the MPS budget and educational curriculum.
Apparently, the mayor's supporters who were at the conference are just trying to benefit from the projected educational stimulus package, according to opponents of the mayoral takeover. But, supporters and opponents do agree that getting part of the billions in federal school grants is "the key political factor for the mayoral takeover, instead of developing a curriculum that aims to provide an educational opportunity for students to succeed academically by enrolling in college bound courses, in order to compete for future jobs."
The MPS Board voted last week to set aside $250,000 to cover lawyer fees just in case the mayoral takeover ends up with a legal challenge.
For example, the Chicago mayoral takeover of public schools provided a grim change, but was contributed to the actual changes in the tests. A study conducted by the Commercial Club of Chicago found that academic gains made by elementary students in the mayor-controlled Chicago Public Schools “appear to be due to changes in the tests made by the Illinois State Board of Education, rather than real improvements in student learning.” The study called the performance of Chicago’s high schools “abysmal.”
In another city, Detroit voters gave control back to the school board after the mayoral takeover when test scores remained the same. In Boston, some improvement resulted in math and reading scores after mayoral control, but opponents have questioned the methods used in collecting data. Opponents say, studies have shown that in most cities where mayoral control of public schools have occurred, parents usually have less input in deciding how the schools are run.
“I know that something has to be done about MPS, but a takover? I’m curious what happens when MPS falls short. Will they (mayor and governor) give furloughs to the teachers and close down for a day or two?,” Victor Huyke, Publisher of El Conquistador Newspaper said.
Last week Wednesday, Milwaukee Alderman Anthony Zielinski who opposes the takeover said, what’s at stake is "the fundamental right to vote. Governor Doyle and Mayor Barrett proposed that the School Board of Directors be disbanded in favor of a body appointed by the mayor. I am fighting 100 percent against this antidemocratic measure. To that end, Common Council legislation is being drafted to formalize this opposition."
Zielinski has challenged Mayor Barrett for a public debate on the MPS takeover, but the mayor has refused. Zielinski (Dem.) filed recently as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore issued a statement decrying the takeover. "We will not rectify the challenges facing MPS unless we talk about poverty, teen pregnancy and the perverted policy initiatives that have exacerbated this problem for our city’s public schools. MPS is working with a flawed state funding formula that sends our public dollars to private schools outside of the city. … I fully believe that the governor and the mayor have the best intentions for MPS; however, I have yet to hear a credible explanation of how these difficult challenges get fixed by simply changing the way that our school board is chosen," Moore wrote.
The local Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP has publicly opposed the mayoral takeover. "The proposed takeover will have the effect of disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of voters," NAACP Milwaukee Chapter President Jerry Hamilton said.
"We are opposed to mayoral control of our schools. We think the best model is a strong school board selecting a very vibrant and energetic new superintendent...We believe school reform works best when the educators in the classroom as well as the community is involved in shaping that reform," Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association President Mike Langyel said.
Last week, State Rep. Polly Williams said the mayor, governor, director of public instruction and others are trying to oust Dr. Michael Bonds an African-American school board president, who oversees a school district that is 57 percent African-American.
The MPS Board recently created the Department of Accountability to have oversight of their expenditures and costs . "We have put together a plan that will provide unprecedented fiscal and program accountability," Bonds said. The mayor and governor have yet to offer an alternative, Bonds added.

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