Larry Miller's Blog: Educate All Students!

October 29, 2014

City of Milwaukee Charter Policy Analysis

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 9:12 am

CITY BAN ON ‘CASH FOR KIDS’ SPEAKS TO BROADER STATE ISSUES
By Dominique Paul Noth Monday, October 20, 2014

It’s hard to applaud bravery with a cry of “More work to do!” But that should be the reaction to the Milwaukee Common Council’s unanimous ordinance October 14 barring financial incentives to lure children to its charter schools, demanding this bar be included in any charter agreements the city makes from this point on and urging the state to adopt similar rules to stop “cash for kids” by schools supported by government money.

This is legislative action at the city level that should stir a long overdue discussion in the state. It is already on the periphery of the governor’s race about the rules that should be in place for charter and voucher schools and aren’t, and horribly high taxpayer outlays ($192 million this year for state vouchers alone) that are making scant difference in quality for children.

To lay out the landscape in Milwaukee, multiple government agencies can approve K-12 charter schools, technically public schools though excused from many conditions, while a direct private or religious school program known as vouchers, or Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), has been expanded statewide by the administration of Scott Walker. In contrast, MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools system with its own publicly elected board) has never considered cash outlays to attract new students. They do occasional pancake breakfasts to encourage pupils to show up for the state count date. But UWM has let its authorized private charter schools use the cash or grocery card gimmick to attract students. It was this practice at its Urban Day School that first aroused ire.

The city ordinance is a firm no-no that covers only its dozen charter schools. It reads: Prohibited Practice a. No charter school shall offer money or any other thing of pecuniary value to a parent, student, teacher, staff member or any other person as an incentive for recruiting a student to enroll at a charter school. b. The prohibition shall be included in the charter school contract and may result in the termination or revocation of the charter school contract.

In making this move, the council also stiffed Milwaukee Charter School Advocates and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, organizations that knew better than to formally oppose but submitted an email of caution given their intrinsic involvement in these schools. Don’t “restrict its schools from using funds to encourage new enrollment,” they wrote the council, hoping the new ordinance would not eliminate offering free uniforms and the like.

The council was certainly polite but its substitute resolution 140912 put the onus back on the private schools about whether I-Pads, meals or uniforms for kids fall in the category of deceptive advantage.

The council reacted because charter schools were waving cash at adults who brought new students to the school by the signup date of September 19, when students have to be there to be counted for state revenue. To encourage parents in mainly poor areas to look at the money they can make rather than the curriculum and quality being offered children has been called flat bribery by community activists and MPS teachers who have staged protests around the issue.

That was in contrast to the original JS story that hinted this was just a shrewd marketing move in a competitive education field.

JS must know that in the public’s mind this per-student support for voucher and charter schools appears cheaper for taxpayers than what public schools with union teachers cost, so stealing $100 or $200 for non-education purpose from the taxpayer was excused as just the cost of competition.

That’s deceptive and obviously depends on ethics and values. Private schools pass off most special needs students to public school districts, which accept all comers and have expertly trained specialists. That public school ability to address individual needs of pupils is a big part of the costs, while Republican legislators pretend it is all about union vs. nonunion. Perhaps that is why private charter schools think it is no big deal to protect their bottom line by putting taxpayers’ dollars not into the classroom but into marketing.

That claim of being cheaper is suspect because this is not apples to apples. Initial funding for these charter schools and continued funding for voucher schools are hardly transparent even before the taxpayer steps in. A few of these schools fulfill the outlined mission of intelligent experimentation on education models. But they have advantages that school districts lack in buying or building the actual facilities, marketing looseness, short-term teachers and larger class sizes, not from classroom expertise if you accept the results of the limited testing allowed.

Full public schools face far more scrutiny despite critics who regard their procedures as restrictive. Public school advocates see their own mandated rules as built-in transparency protection for children against those who treat children as a financial opportunity and even parents who take a path of religious familiarity and marketing expertise over education outcomes.

Some educators see these charter private network and voucher practices as similar and aimed at destroying teaching as a career given the high turnover of the Teach for America participants. These college grads are personable but they have one eye on Wall Street and for many reasons less than half outlast their two year contract and several abandon it early. Long classroom work especially in poor economic regions always has high attrition, but brightness in college is proving not sufficient for retention, far less than long training and desire to teach.

And it’s no longer cheap for taxpayers. Even in 2012, voucher schools were allowed by Madison to serve families with twice Milwaukee’s medium income.

While the public still thinks cost per pupil hovers around $4,000 or $6,000 a year, that has long vanished. Under Walker’s administration costs have gone up faster than the low income levels that originally justified the creation of such schools. Now state taxpayer pay $8,075 per charter school kid though most users of this state aid were originally in a private school.

Voucher schools per pupil have jumped to $7,210 per K-8 student and $7,856 for high school in taxpayer aid.

Along the lines of hidden costs for the state taxpayer, the Oct. 15 figures of allocated state aid for education contain some disturbing numbers for Milwaukee. On the impending property tax bill if you don’t read one of the multiple inserts from the city, you might assume the public schools of MPS are the largest cost to property owners. In fact, when read correctly, the Milwaukee Public Schools and its current 79,000 schoolchildren drop out of first place. Under the state formula bookkeeping trickery, MPS is credited on the rolls with money it never sees and students it has lost to competition.

The uninformed public does not realize there are nearly 30,000 voucher and charter students receiving tax dollars that MPS cannot count as Milwaukee public students. Even city of Milwaukee charter schools receive state money (and federal grants) MPS never gets near. Yet the state’s tax cost formula muddies the waters.

There are 10 years left of the state voucher school tax and this year it diverts more than $61 million from MPS that is included in the MPS tax pie. The charter school movement in Milwaukee is growing though MPS’ own selective and tightly monitored charters are largely responsible for any decent comparative ratings. So MPS sees minimal return from the $9.3 million (of statewide $68.8 million) in Milwaukee taxpayer cost for charters. In essence that’s $65.6 million of the MPS levy going to voucher and independent charter schools, fully 20% of what the public thinks MPS is getting but never receives.

Yet the same city supplies the property tax bill and needs to do so much more to clarify it. And city charters also take money away from MPS, though this ordinance now finally insists on the behavior with state money that MPS has always done.

This Oct. 14 resolution was pushed by Ald. Nik Kovac and joined by the president of the common council, Michael Murphy.
Murphy replaced Willie Hines who left for another job and was seen as something of a rubber stamp for the city’s charter school committee. At the same aldermanic meeting where the new rules were discussed and headed for approval, the aldermen approved a new term for Mayor Barrett’s charter chair, Jeanette Mitchell, who formerly served on the MPS board and currently is close with Howard Fuller at Marquette University, whose division vets and approves city charter schools.

This resolution was an obvious good first step — particularly in protecting the reputation of city charter schools that have sprung up in poor communities where cash gifts may be particularly tempting. Paying an adult $100 at a UWM charter school (Urban Day) to bring in a new student, or giving them a $50 grocery card at another UWM school upset the community, but it was a city charter school’s effort to give $200 per pupil at Central City Cyberschool that spurred the Common Council into action.

And that was brave since UWM has not stepped in with similar strictures on its dozen charter schools nor has the state Department of Public Instruction even been asked for its opinion, which would have to go before a charter-happy legislature. The city is out there in lone legislative nobility.

On the other hand, this is only the obvious canker sore on the city charter body, which needs to be put under a more intense microscope for questionable practices. Murphy is facing pressure for remedial repair given a growing litany of problems.

Rocketship has technically been approved for seven more schools without re-examining the one it now runs on the South Side with less students and poorer results than originally promised, and Rocketship has delayed opening an inner city school, yet the city has not actively questioned its model. JS education reporter Erin Richards attended a detailed presentation at City Hall a day after she wrote about Rand Paul’s praise of school choice at a Milwaukee voucher school. She or her editors just ignored that presentation in print. It was a devastating and well researched academic study on Rocketship’s national behavior and secret intentions.

The city has also given regular charter renewal for a school named after Willie Hines’ brother despite constant failure in performance standards. It has approved other schools that miss their enrollment goals or lose students to MPS, which by law must take them, and it turns out to be part of the $100 million investigators claim has been wasted in ineffective or closed charter schools.

For years there has been a cozy relationship between the city charter approval process and the national charter groups that see profit in the nation’s 50 million schoolchildren or a political way to destroy the power and independence of public education, according to many reliable investigators.

Murphy and the council still have to step up to looking back as well as forward, to examine what other controls should be in place on how these schools lure students, what special rewards they bring to education (because despite the claims of choice, the fruit is in the results) and whether elected officials are being duped by secret money while also robbing taxpayers of the truly responsible choices offered by public schools.

Politically these privately operated or religiously operated schools have a public relations advantage with elected officials. Parents love their idea of “choice” since the schools receive taxpayer money in their name (sort of like buying someone else a car) and are seduced by the personal contact with their nervous youngsters at the school door and some hugs afterward. But the results on the whole demonstrate little in results and many losses in quality, stirring caring parents to regular flights back to public schools.

For the Common Council and other government entities, it’s time for some deeper fishing with stronger hooks.

About the author: Noth has been a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at milwaukeelabor.org. In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom’s Domain. He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com

Too Much Testing

Filed under: Testing Issues — millerlf @ 8:48 am

As student testing mounts, growing chorus says it’s too much
By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel Oct. 27, 2014

Last fall, Milwaukee parent Jasmine Alinder went to volunteer in her daughter’s kindergarten classroom for a day of testing.The students were taking the Measures of Academic Progress, computer-based tests given three times a year to track academic progress from fall to spring.But what Alinder saw disturbed her: not enough computers, malfunctioning equipment, and kids having trouble understanding and answering the questions, many of which she thought were confusing or poorly worded.”In one hour we managed to shepherd only three children through the entire test, with two others starting but not finishing,” Alinder wrote, in a piece circulated by the Milwaukee teachers union.The MAP test, Alinder concluded, “is disruptive and takes away valuable classroom time.”

Since last year, a growing chorus has echoed those concerns nationally, sparking a widespread discussion about the number, type and usefulness of tests administered in public schools.

Last week, a joint statement from state education chiefs and urban superintendents called for taking stock of and rolling back some of the tests on the table. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who in tandem with the Obama administration has generally advocated for test-based accountability, said he actually welcomed the move.
“In some cases, tests — and preparation for them — dominate the calendar and culture of schools, causing undue stress,” Duncan wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.

But untethering the American K-12 system from tests in an era of test-based accountability will be difficult. There’s no clear answer about how to use tests in a way that’s more helpful than now, in part because different factions have different beliefs on how much and what type of testing is necessary.

And the discussions are happening at a time when many states — including Wisconsin — are set to debut new state standardized achievement tests tied to the Common Core standards this spring.

The superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools system just called for delaying the administration of those exams. And school districts from New Hampshire to Oregon also are staging revolts, according to a story in Politico.
Tests that matter

The federal No Child Left Behind law passed in 2001 ramped up the focus on testing because it required that schools, in their annual testing of students, publicize the scores of student subgroups, such as English language learners and racial minorities.

Wisconsin students historically took those exams in third through eighth grade, and once in high school, in 10th grade.
The new Common Core-aligned state exams, to be administered online, will take the place of the old pencil-and-paper Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts exam in English and math starting this spring.

But other new statewide or district-specific tests have been adopted in recent years. Wisconsin has adopted an early literacy screening test, administered one-on-one by a teacher, for its youngest elementary students.

The WKCE in high school will be dropped, in favor of a suite of ACT-related tests in ninth and 10th grades, and then a requirement that all 11th-graders take the full ACT college entrance exam test.

MAP is something districts decide to use on an individual basis; MPS implemented it in recent years to better track the progress children make from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
How many of those tests actually matter to students?

At a national meeting about testing Friday in Milwaukee, Riverside High School senior Jaxs Goldsmith — class president and an aspiring electrical engineer — said he and his friends saw the WKCE and the MAP as unnecessary.
“I rushed through them,” he said. “I really didn’t take those tests seriously, because they’re not tied to getting into (a good) high school or college.”

Kaya Henderson, the superintendent of the Washington, D.C., Public Schools, said Friday the pendulum had swung from knowing little about how student subgroups were performing in each school, to being overly focused on testing.
“I think we’ve gone from veiled accountability or limited accountability for schools to kind of uber accountability and test mania,” Henderson said. “I think there’s a reasonable middle.”

Critics of high-stakes testing, such as the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, say the nation needs an indefinite moratorium on sanctions, Common Core tests, other statewide accountability exams and requirements that student scores be used to judge teachers.

Local reaction
Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association union, said local teachers are not against tests; they simply want them to improve teaching and learning, not distort the educational process.
The MTEA is pushing state and local officials in Wisconsin to end computerized MAP testing of kids in kindergarten through second grade, reduce the amount of testing for kids with special needs and test English-language learners in their native language as much as possible.

“Don’t subject them to English tests that don’t reliably measure their content knowledge,” he said.

Betsy Kippers, president of the largest state teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said teachers and other organizations needed to examine state and federal mandates on testing and determine what, exactly, is necessary to assess a child’s progress.

“Instead of just a test made for the accountability of a school, what are the tests necessary to help a kid improve?” she said.

A Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction spokesman shifted the spotlight away from the state test, saying districts give lots of other exams that aren’t required by the state.
“We are hoping local districts will join us in reviewing the exams they choose to administer,” said DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy.

What can be done
Marc Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center on Education, said no other country — including those outperforming the United States — has a year-by-year testing requirement.
“Not one of them give an accountability test more than three times in a student’s elementary and secondary education,” Tucker said.
He recommends that each state approve an instrument to screen kids for their basic skills at the beginning of their academic career, such as in first grade. And then have accountability tests just a few other times, such as at the end of fourth and 10th grades.

Even the College Board, the influential nonprofit that oversees the Advanced Placement program and the SAT college entrance exam, has done some soul-searching lately.

“We have enough assessments; what we need are more opportunities,” David Coleman, head of the College Board and before that, a chief architect of the Common Core standards, told urban district leaders in Milwaukee.

He said test prep for the SAT college entrance exam has in some ways widened the gulf between poor and disadvantaged students and wealthy students with more access to resources.

Coleman said the board needed to “dare to simplify” the exam, and to make sure that the barrier to college was not “an obscure litany of words.”At Riverside High School, Principal Michael Harris said this year administrators decided to eliminate the MAP test, which was previously given to ninth- and 12th-graders.

But the move didn’t exactly free up instructional time.The new suite of ACT tests simply took its place.

October 26, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Op-Ed: Facts show that voucher program hurts public schools

Filed under: American Injustice — millerlf @ 9:33 pm

By Larry Miller Oct. 25, 2014

Given the assertions made in a recent article, Journal Sentinel columnist Christian Schneider might be advised to read the Journal Sentinel more often (“In education, think of the invisible kid,” Crossroads, Oct. 12). If he did, he may have been able to convey more accurate factual information regarding education funding rather than perpetuating the false claims included in his column concerning invisible children.

The real facts and the numbers regarding per-student funding are anything but “invisible.” Here they are.

Fact: Milwaukee Public Schools’ per-student revenue for the average pupil was $9,921 in 2012-’13, utilizing the most recent published data and the comparison method relayed to the Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact Wisconsin in April 2013 by groups as diverse as the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, School Choice Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

The higher per-student figure Schneider used for MPS is not only outdated but also inaccurate, especially given the comparison to voucher students that he made because, as the same PolitiFact Wisconsin article noted, “some federal dollars that flow, for example, through Milwaukee Public Schools actually go toward helping transport and support choice students. So the funds show up as revenue to MPS even though a portion is essentially in-kind revenue for choice schools.”

Logic tells you that you simply can’t count money that actually goes toward voucher students as money that is spent on MPS students. That math doesn’t work.

Fact: The vast majority of students participating in the statewide voucher program in its first year were already attending private schools, as the Journal Sentinel reported in October 2013. Schneider complains that “if statewide choice were eliminated, the invisible children in districts everywhere in the state could start showing up and driving up costs” when in reality the voucher program itself is driving up costs by publicly funding the education of students whose families were previously paying their own way in private schools. Costs don’t go down when the state is simply picking up the tab for current private school students; that math doesn’t work either.

The same phenomenon has occurred in the Milwaukee program. As the Journal Sentinel reported in February 2012, when the income limit in the program was raised, some of the first-year voucher students were tuition-paying students in private schools the prior year.

The Public Policy Forum, whose report was the basis of the Journal Sentinel article, concluded that “much” of the growth in voucher enrollment after the Milwaukee income cap was raised came from students whose families previously paid tuition.

Fact: While neither group’s overall performance is acceptable, low- and middle-income Milwaukee students utilizing vouchers to attend private schools performed at a lower level than students in MPS, and MPS educates a significantly higher percentage of students challenged by disabilities.
Schneider’s claim that vouchers give students “the chance to receive a top-flight education of their parents’ choosing” is not borne out by the numbers.

These are facts reported by the newspaper for which Schneider writes. Readers ought to be aware of them.

Larry Miller is a Milwaukee School Board member.

October 23, 2014

Most new enrollees in state voucher program were in private schools

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 4:27 pm

By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel Oct. 23, 2014

Just over 1,000 students are receiving publicly funded tuition subsidies to attend 31 private, mostly religious schools across Wisconsin, according to enrollment numbers released by the state Thursday for the new statewide voucher program.

The 2-year-old program was put into place by the Republican-controlled state Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker. It called for an enrollment cap of 500 students in the first year and 1,000 in the second year.

Just like the inaugural crop of students who kicked off the program last year, 73% of the additional voucher students this year were already attending a private school before they started receiving state-funded vouchers, according to state figures.

About 20% of the new voucher enrollment in 2014-’15 were previously attending a public school. The rest were home-schooled, too young to have yet attended school or from out of state.

Jim Bender, president of the voucher advocacy group School Choice Wisconsin, said Thursday that many of the students previously attending private schools weren’t “scratching checks for their tuition; they were on scholarship.”

Because those students are now receiving taxpayer-funded vouchers, private schools have extended scholarship money to other pupils who would not otherwise have been able to attend, he said.

Private schools will receive a state payment of $7,210 for each K-8 voucher student and $7,865 for high school students. The program is expected to cost the state about $7.4 million in 2014-’15.

Betsy Kippers, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said Thursday it was unfair that the statewide program was funneling tax dollars away from neighborhood public schools.

The numbers released Thursday are for the new statewide program and do not reflect the number of students attending private schools on public vouchers in separate programs for Milwaukee and Racine.

October 20, 2014

Racine Journal Times Editorial on Voucher Accountability

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:46 pm

Racine Journal Times editorial: Voucher-school accountability must be a priority for governor
October 19, 2014 Journal Times Editorial Board

Wisconsin taxpayers have paid about $139 million to private schools that ended up being barred from the state’s voucher system for failing to meet requirements since 2004, the Wisconsin State Journal reported this month.
While this exorbitant number is new, the issue of voucher accountability is not. We reported on this problem extensively after St. John Fisher Academy closed in 2012 following only one year of operation.

The Northwestern Avenue school had counted on various grants and other funding coming in. But they didn’t come through and, after months of teachers working without pay, the school announced its closing because of lack of funding.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal report, 11 schools, paid a total of $4.1 million, were terminated from the voucher program after only one year.

In the past legislative session, some changes to law were passed that required schools to gain accreditation and have detailed plans for curriculum, budgeting and staffing before they can be admitted into the program, Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, said in the State Journal article.

Part of the school experience is establishing relationships with fellow students and with teachers. If a school closes after one year, those relationships are torn apart as students are dispersed.

When parents send their children to a particular school, be it private or public, they should be able to trust that the school will remain open through the year and in subsequent years.

Just as important, we don’t like the idea of tax money being thrown down the drain.

The debate about vouchers has already started between gubernatorial candidates and, even after the election, likely it will not go away anytime soon.

We have supported the idea of giving parents the option to explore private schools as an alternative to public schools with the support of vouchers.

But the money shouldn’t be tossed willy-nilly at any school putting out a hand.

The schools being offered taxpayer money should be accountable to many of the same standards as public school.
While the debate over expanding or decreasing the voucher program certainly will continue among Republicans and Democrats, accountability for those schools accepting vouchers now and in the future needs to be a priority for both parties.

October 9, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court blocks implementation of Voter ID in Wisconsin

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:38 pm

U.S. Supreme Court blocks implementation of Voter ID in Wisconsin

1 hour ago • Associated Press

The Government Accountability Board announced Thursday it plans to spend more than $400,000 on a radio and TV public information campaign about the state’s new photo ID voting requirement.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked Wisconsin from implementing a law requiring voters to present photo IDs, overturning a lower court decision that would have put the law in place for the November election.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law constitutional on Monday. The American Civil Liberties Union followed that up the next day with an emergency request to the Supreme Court asking it to block the ruling.

On Thursday night the U.S. Supreme Court did so, issuing a one-page order that vacated the appeals court ruling pending further proceedings. Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, saying the application should have been denied because there was no indication that the 7th Circuit had demonstrably erred.

The voter photo identification law has been a political flashpoint since Republican legislators passed it in 2011. The GOP argues the mandate is a common sense step toward reducing election fraud. Democrats maintain no widespread fraud exists and that the law is really an attempt to keep Democratic constituents who may lack ID, such as the poor, minorities and the elderly, from voting.

The law was in effect for the February 2012 primary but subsequent legal challenges put it on hold and it hasn’t been in place for any election since.

The ACLU and allied groups persuaded a federal judge in Milwaukee to declare the law unconstitutional in April.

Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the decision. A three-judge panel ruled last month that the state could implement the law while it considered the merits of the case, sparking outrage from the ACLU, its allies and Democrats who contended that state election officials couldn’t re-implement the law in time for the Nov. 4 elections and that chaos would reign at the polls.

A flurry of legal jousting ensued. The ACLU asked the Supreme Court last week to take emergency action to block the appeals panel’s decision. On Monday the 7th Circuit issued a full ruling declaring the law constitutional, a decision that was all but certain given the initial order allowing the state to move ahead, promoting the ACLU to follow Tuesday with another emergency request to the Supreme Court.

Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/u-s-supreme-court-blocks-implementation-of-voter-id-in/article_591cb917-71e8-52ad-a829-c434e14e7774.html#ixzz3FhowLpLs

October 7, 2014

Bobby Tanzilo of OnMilwaukee Gets it Right on Malcolm X

Filed under: Malcolm X,MPS Buildings — millerlf @ 8:31 pm

Published Sept. 24, 2014

Last Friday, Milwaukee Public Schools issued a statement saying that it had parted ways with the developer of a project to renovate and re-develop the former Malcolm X Academy/Center Street School, at Center and Palmer Streets, noting that the plan would nevertheless continue to move forward.

“The district will continue to work on the construction of the project and will issue a Request for Proposals for a construction manager,” the statement said. MPS spokesman Tony Tagliavia told me that the plan still includes opening an International Baccalaureate middle school in the complex.

Yesterday, in a news report, a district official was quoted as saying MPS ended the deal with the development team after a member of the latter made a “questionable request,” though apparently that same news outlet — which also ran a pro-voucher school editorial yesterday — didn’t ask about, or at least didn’t report on, what that request might have been.

On a related side note, the local media continues to ignore the fact that a number of school buildings that were recently vacant have been sold, among them Jackie Robinson, Dover and Centro Del Nino. An RFP was issued for the sale of the former Garfield Avenue School yesterday, after a previous prospective buyer failed to get financing.

Many more such buildings have recently been called back into service by the district — 27th Street School, Green Bay Avenue, Howard Avenue, Sarah Scott, Milwaukee Education Center, Fritsche Middle School, Happy Hill, Morse Middle School, Webster Middle School, Burroughs Middle School, Westside Academy II building, 38th Street School (in some cases to house charter schools) among them. There’s been talk, too, of re-opening Fletcher on the far northwest, and/or 88th Street on the far southwest sides.

Changing needs and changing demographics mean that the district is smart to hold on to buildings that could be of future use. What would taxpayers — and Milwaukee media — say if MPS sold a building and then five years later needed to build a school down the block from it?

How would those folks suggest the district grow and replicate high-performing schools like Golda Meir (which expanded into the previously empty MEC, for example) and the Montessoris (which expanded into the former, and briefly vacant, Tippecanoe), a number of which are already facing crises of space that prevent the district from growing enrollment?

Had it asked about the so-called “questionable request,” the paper would’ve learned that on May 23, MPS and Mayor Tom Barrett sent a letter to local businesses seeking sponsors for the annual Council of Great City Schools conference, to be hosted in Milwaukee by MPS in October. One of the recipients of that letter was Dennis Klein of KBS Construction, part of 2760 Holdings LLC, which was the Malcolm X developer.

A handwritten note in response, which appeared to have been penned by Klein, to MPS’ Ann Terrell said, “I will sponsor at Michigan level ($15,000) when I get LOI (letter of intent) and/or lease extended on Malcolm X. This is a contingent (emphasis in the original note) pledge.”

“It was not deemed to be illegal as far as we know,” MPS’ Chief of Staff Erbert Johnson told Fox 6 News. “We basically again turned it over to our attorney, which is the city attorney — and from there we decided to sever the relationship.”

Ending that relationship apparently didn’t sit well with two surburban politicians who previously tried to force MPS to hand over public buildings to voucher schools, because yesterday afternoon, Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Dr. Michael Bonds fired a missive at Republican State Sen. Alberta Darling and State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo.

“From the beginning of this process, Sen. Darling and Rep. Sanfelippo have clearly misunderstood this effort to bring a high-performing International Baccalaureate school to the Malcolm X neighborhood. Their statement today only further serves to illustrate that fact,” Bonds is quoted in an MPS news release.

“There is nothing inappropriate about the decision made by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors to move forward with this project without the developer we initially identified. What was most critical to this Board is that the project move forward.

“It is unfortunate that Sen. Darling and Rep. Sanfelippo have characterized this effort as phony, crooked and obscene. In fact, the Board took the appropriate steps to continue the project itself and keep our promise to the neighborhood to deliver what it asked for: a high-performing school.”

Bonds also said he has asked the city attorney’s office about “legal options with respect to the inflammatory and false allegations by Darling and Sanfelippo against the district, alleging corruption.”
Tags: Malcolm X, MPS, Alberta Darling, vacant buildings, SB318 Wisconsin

October 3, 2014

The Facts About Malcolm X

Filed under: Malcolm X — millerlf @ 4:15 pm

The facts: How the Malcolm X development is moving forward
District documents show taxpayers are receiving work products to complete project

MILWAUKEE (September 24, 2014) – The following is a statement by Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Michael Bonds regarding reporting on the Malcolm X project:

“Recent news coverage may be causing confusion about what Milwaukee taxpayers are receiving in an agreement between Milwaukee Public Schools and the former developer of the Malcolm X Academy building, which the district will convert to a high-performing International Baccalaureate school in the fall of 2016.

“Coverage in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has referred to the payment of ‘fees’ the paper estimates at up to $1 million dollars. That information is incorrect.

“As the district detailed on its website on Friday, it is receiving work product, including construction drawings and other materials, that are needed as the project moves forward. The compensation, which is approximately $500,000, is far less than the $1 million noted by the Journal Sentinel. It was vetted by the independent consultant used by the City of Milwaukee and found to be customary. Please see the attached document and note the totals under the suggested claim column.

“How school buildings are used is an important topic. In order to have a honest conversation about them, taxpayers deserve to have the facts.”

Fox 6 News Report Sept. 23 By Beverly Taylor— Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is looking for a new developer for the empty Malcolm X Academy. This is the building a private school offered to buy — and MPS rejected for plans of its own.
State Senator Alberta Darling has been a vocal supporter of MPS selling the empty Malcolm X Academy to St. Marcus Academy. It wanted to expand its highly touted program. Instead, MPS partnered with private developer, 2760 Holdings.
“Well, it would have been a combination of retail and office and housing and I don’t know that there was a market demand for that kind of a project,” said Darling.

MPS Chief of Staff Erbert Johnson says the project is not dead — it’s just shedding the developer.“Now we’re gonna lead it and hire some other professionals to kind of assist us in the process,” said Johnson.

The decision to dissolve the partnership came after a mass letter for sponsorship was sent out for an upcoming conference in the city. Johnson showed FOX6 News what appeared to be a hand-written response from Dennis Klein, a partner of 2760 Holdings. It said quote, “I will sponsor at Michigan level when I get letter of intent and/or lease executed on Malcolm X. This is a contingent pledge. D.”

A “Michigan level” sponsorship was $15,000.

“It was not deemed to be illegal as far as we know,” said Johnson. “We basically again turned it over to our attorney, which is the city attorney — and from there we decided to sever the relationship.”

Johnson said the plan is to move forward with a middle school for 400 to 600 students.“The school as an anchor was the most important piece because a high-performing school would then be something that would attract housing; something that would attract retail,” said Johnson.

While Johnson says the plan was in the making years ago, Darling has her own opinion.

“It was put together to prevent St. Marcus from being about to buy the facility,” said Darling.
FOX6 News left a voicemail for Dennis Klein for comment. So far, he has not returned our calls.

At this point, MPS is in the process of purchasing the work product from 2760 Holdings — so the project can move forward. It’s an estimated cost of about $500,000 — although the developer has requested more.

Following is a previous statement by Dr. Michael Bonds, president of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, regarding the erroneous statement issued today by State Senator Alberta Darling and State Representative Joe Sanfelippo regarding the district’s plans to continue the development of the former Malcolm X Academy building:
“From the beginning of this process, Senator Darling and Representative Sanfelippo have clearly misunderstood this effort to bring a high-performing International Baccalaureate school to the Malcolm X neighborhood. Their statement today only further serves to illustrate that fact.
There is nothing inappropriate about the decision made by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors to move forward with this project without the developer we initially identified. What was most critical to this Board is that the project move forward.
It is unfortunate that Senator Darling and Representative Sanfelippo have characterized this effort as phony, crooked and obscene. In fact, the Board took the appropriate steps to continue the project itself and keep our promise to the neighborhood to deliver what it asked for: a high-performing school.
I have asked the Office of the City Attorney to provide legal options with respect to the inflammatory and false allegations by Darling and Sanfelippo against the district, alleging corruption.”

September 24, 2014

Aldermen Target Incentives Offered by Charter Schools

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 7:50 pm

Council members target enrollment incentives offered by charter schools

News release from Alds. Nik Kovac and Michael J. Murphy
By Nik Kovac – Sep 23rd, 2014

Charter schools in Milwaukee would be prohibited from using financial incentives as a recruitment tool, under legislation introduced today by Alderman Nik Kovac and co-sponsored by Common Council President Michael J. Murphy.

The charter ordinance is in response to reports that Central City Cyberschool—and others like it—offered cash incentives for student referrals. A flyer from Central City Cyberschool indicated that parents, staff and daycare centers could “earn $200” if they referred a student who met a number of conditions.

“Students and their families should be evaluating schools based on the quality of the education they will receive,” Alderman Kovac said. “Any schools that receive public money should not be trying to game the system like this, and it certainly should not be taking place at a school that is chartered by the city.”

The ordinance will be referred to the Steering and Rules Committee, and Alderman Kovac said he hoped it would quickly be adopted by the Common Council.

In conjunction with the proposed ordinance, Alderman Murphy said he will also be introducing a resolution that calls on the state legislature to prohibit choice and public schools from offering similar financial incentives as well.

“We don’t want any funds that could be used to educate children being diverted to spurious recruitment efforts,” Alderman Murphy said. “A race to the bottom isn’t in anyone’s best interest—least of all the children in our schools.”

School Choice Wisconsin Embarrasses Itself with False Reporting

Filed under: Charter Schools,Vouchers — millerlf @ 11:07 am

Supporters of taxpayer funded private schools (voucher schools) have no shame in attempting to berate public education.

In its latest attack on public education, School Choice Wisconsin (SCW) commissioned a report on 911 calls, comparing MPS and voucher and charter schools. The report lacks any validity in content, methodology and conclusions drawn .

The report uses data from school year 2012-2013. Since 2012-13, the Milwaukee Police Department has seen a significant reduction in calls for service to MPS schools. In a channel 6 interview yesterday, an MPD representative stated that MPS has been doing an excellent job of handling matters internally, avoiding the need for calls for service.

School Choice Wisconsin should be embarrassed to stand behind such flagrant political grand-standing. Note a few facts about the report:
• School Choice Wisconsin has issued at least 3 versions of the report because of errors in its data and reporting.
• The SCW study included calls after hours and on non-school days, so it doesn’t reflect what’s happening in school.
• Calls may include burglar alarms, medical calls, SRO activity and neighborhood incidents.
• SCW claims it is looking at the intersection of police calls and school locations, not just schools as educational settings. That’s a problem because all of the data comparison is on a per-student basis and doesn’t account for non-student users of facilities.
• There were simple math errors. The 2R charter count was over-reported, which deflated their per-student police calls.
• It was also that found MPS student count is underreported.
• SCW did not include all MPS students in all MPS schools, 151 buildings only.
• Conclusions did not match the data. For example, the data does not verify that MPS has 84 times as many juvenile arrests as MPCP.

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