Is this an attempt to bankrupt MPS and add to the privatization of all things public in the state of Wisconsin?
“Michael Bonds, president of the MPS board, said the plan would bankrupt the district by hijacking money and facilities from the district and into private but taxpayer-supported schools.”
By Lisa Kaiser Sheppard Express 5/12/15
Suburban Republican Legislative Plan to Take Over MPS Schools
Milwaukee County Executive Abele would control and privatize public schools
Under a plan developed by suburban Republicans, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele would be empowered to appoint a commissioner who’d take over Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) that fail to meet expectations.
The Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP), authored by conservative Republicans who represent two of the wealthiest communities in the state—state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield)—would get underway as early as this fall if passed by the state Legislature.
Their OSPP talking points, which were leaked over the weekend, would create a new governance structure headed by a Milwaukee County executive appointee that would have as much power as the MPS board but would be free of nearly all state and local regulations. The unelected OSPP commissioner would then run a handful of turnaround schools as traditional public schools, charter schools or voucher schools and they’d be funded by taxpayer dollars diverted from MPS. Employees would not be allowed to join a union and teachers apparently wouldn’t need a license.
Michael Bonds, president of the MPS board, said the OSPP plan would bankrupt the district by hijacking money and facilities from the district and into private but taxpayer-supported schools.
“Let’s call it what it is—a hostile takeover,” Bonds told the Shepherd.
He said that MPS schools perform as well as charter and voucher schools and that parents have a host of MPS-overseen charter schools to choose from if they want an alternative to a traditional public school for their child.
Bonds said he and MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver discussed the plan with the legislators and had tried to offer them alternatives. Mayor Tom Barrett also discussed the plan with Kooyenga, but when the mayor asked for details he didn’t get any. In short order, the suburban Republicans put Abele, who like Gov. Scott Walker lacks a college degree, in charge of the new district.
On Monday, Abele released a statement saying he didn’t seek out the position but would accept it even if the plan passes without details.
In a statement, state Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) called the plan “deeply misguided” and said the legislators should fix the funding flaw first.
“We know poor school districts have less resources than wealthy districts due to property tax dependency,” Bowen wrote. “Another priority should be eliminating the cuts to the historic Chapter 220 integration aid program from the state budget.”
Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) President Bob Peterson called the plan “absurd” and said it would hurt kids and its parallel governing structure, created by white suburbanites and controlled by Abele, would contribute to the region’s hypersegregation and shut out the voices of Milwaukee’s African Americans.
“It’s part of a larger plan to continue privatization of public schools,” Peterson said.
Darling and Kooyenga didn’t respond to the Shepherd’s request to explain their plan for MPS.
New Orleans Takeover Strategy
This Abele-centered takeover plan is just the latest in a long line of Republican efforts to chip away at public ownership and oversight of taxpayer-funded assets and concentrate power in the hands of the elite few.
Kooyenga, an accountant with no education policy experience, is the main architect of the regressive income tax cuts enacted in the previous state budget, which has contributed to the $2.2 billion structural deficit in the pending budget and Walker’s desire to slash $300 million in University of Wisconsin System funding and $126 million in K-12 funding.
Darling, the co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee (JFC), has created efforts for voucher and charter schools to take over MPS facilities, even going so far as proposing to force MPS to sell its buildings to its competitors.
Earlier this year, Darling and Kooyenga released their “New Opportunities for Milwaukee” plan, the centerpiece of which was a New Orleans-style turnaround district for MPS. Their new plan seems to add detail to this earlier proposal.
Although the two Republicans lauded the New Orleans strategy, which turned almost all public schools into charter schools after Hurricane Katrina, it’s been a failed experiment with privatization. As the Shepherd detailed in March, Louisiana legislators changed schools’ performance standards so that most of New Orleans’ traditional public schools would be deemed failures. Then, with little public debate, lawmakers converted them into charter schools, fired teachers en masse and allowed their union contracts to expire.
Now, almost ten years later, New Orleans parents, primarily African American, are disenfranchised, teachers are taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, disabled students had to go to court to get their needs addressed and critics charge the only serious bump in student performance has come from another lawmaker-created change in standards to make charter schools look better.
Darling and Kooyenga’s plan also seems to be making good on Abele mentor Sheldon Lubar’s declaration in May 2014 that he would set his sights on MPS and would try to find a way neuter its democratically elected board.
Like the Darling-authored Act 14, which consolidated county board power with the Milwaukee County executive, this one would also give Abele new powers that no other county executive in the state has.
Abele does have one official role in education, however. Republicans changed the law in 2011 to grant the Milwaukee County executive the ability to appoint members of the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) board. Abele is the only county executive in the state with the power to head an appointment committee for a technical college board. As the Shepherd reported in April, Abele has used this power to appoint conservative non-Milwaukee County candidates backed by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) to the MATC board.