Educate All Students, Support Public Education

June 28, 2015

National Charter School Conference: “It looked like every other conference. Fall in line, Black people. We know what’s good for you.”

Filed under: Charter Schools,New Orleans,Privatization,Recovery District — millerlf @ 10:00 am

National Charter School Hoopla In New Orleans

Ashana Bigard The Progressive July 2015

Editor’s Note: The National Charter Schools Conference took place this summer at the New Orleans convention center, on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Katrina was, in the infamous words of Education Secretary Arne Duncan “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans” because it forced the community to take steps to improve its low-performing public schools. The mass firing of New Orleans teachers, the dismantling of a city’s public school system and the destruction of local control, has been touted as a model for the nation. The Progressive has reported extensively on the questionable results of the New Orleans charter school experiment. Ashana Bigard, a New Orleanian, advocate, and mother of three, attended the national conference and filed the following report.

I attended the National Charter Schools Conference from June 21 to June 24 in New Orleans.

On Sunday, June 21, as I was checking in, I asked about free spaces for the parents in the community who have children in charter schools. To my surprise and dismay there was no slot open.

The conference kicked off with a Mardi Gras style parade. It was a celebration of charter schools and their success in New Orleans, which is a national model for innovation in education—or so they say.

On Monday, I attended a presentation where Paul Pastorek, the ex-superintendent of Louisiana schools, said that charter schools have “improved the quality of life for the New Orleans community.”

The average reader might say, “What is the problem with that statement?” All over the country people think that New Orleans is a model for public education, that we have done it right. We’re respectable! Successful! Disciplined! Obedient! Ready to go to college! Or work in Walmart, or be a best model prisoner! To be all you can be in today’s Army! That’s us!

We’re a growth district. A lot of our schools have a 100 percent graduation rate. We also happen to have 14,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24, who are not in school or working. They are the lost youth. No, excuse me, I meant to say “opportunity youth.” Somebody clearly has the opportunity to make some money off them.

John White, Louisiana state superintendent of education, said that the state has 26,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or working. More than half of them just happen to reside in our “successful” New Orleans all-charter school district. These are not children in alternative schools. These are the invisible kids. They are the kids who, despite all the wonderful educational choices we supposedly have, don’t fit in anywhere.

I want people to understand how big New Orleans is. You have to drive an hour and a half in any given direction to get out of the city.

In 2007, there were 32,149 children enrolled in Orleans parish. The children charter operators at the conference called “opportunity youth,” who experienced the transition to our all-charter district, were between the ages of 8 and 16 at the time.

By 2011 there was 42,657 children enrolled in Orleans parish. Even with that larger number, one-fourth of the children fall through the cracks of our reformed system.

I don’t know about the average person, but I wouldn’t use an investor who told me that they would lose a quarter of my money. There is a big difference between a dollar and seventy-five cents, we can all agree. It feels very peculiar to call that success. But I’m getting off topic, let’s get back to our wonderful conference.

The audience at the charter school conference was very diverse. The panels, however . . .

I went to a panel called “How can we ensure schools build and maintain model diversity?” Four white men explained the network of charter schools they run, and how diverse they are. One panelist said that most of the schools in the network have a fifty-fifty ratio of white children to minority children. “We want to build schools that we would want to send our own children to,” he declared.

He sounded proud. But I wondered, if the panelists at this conference would only send their own children to a small subset of the schools in their network, what are they saying about the rest of the schools?

John White explained that this year, there is “a push to serve all children.”

Why did it take ten years to start a push to serve all children? That is another question we should be asking in our shiny new school reform system.

The conference in many ways reflected the school district in New Orleans. Many people from New Orleans came as attendees, but very few of them were leading the conference. The leaders and presenters were mainly white men.

In my humble opinion, if a city is 68 percent African American, the leadership of the city’s school district should mirror the city’s demographics.

Imagine a conference on LGBTQ issues where the majority of panelists were straight. Or a conference on women’s issues led by men. We know that the majority of public school children in our city are African American. How did so many people from outside our city and from a different background become experts on our experience and how to educate us?

I’m going to start pushing back.

I’m not saying that we can’t have any white teachers or administrators; I’m not saying that we don’t have white children and families in our public schools, because we do. I’m just saying that there is a stark difference in the demographics when you look at leadership, decision makers, consultants, and stakeholders. And when I say stakeholders, I mean the children and the people from the communities who are in our schools every day.

There was good information, and misleading information, and just downright wrong information being distributed at the national charter school conference.

When I arrived I was hopeful and maybe a little naïve. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that having a national charter school conference in New Orleans might change the way we look at our schools.

When we talk about charter schools for people who have not experienced them the way New Orleans did, you think of innovation, creative ways of teaching and learning. Let me be very clear: that is not happening in the majority of New Orleans charter schools. But just for a minute, I allowed myself to imagine a conference where sessions were interactive and fun. Where people got to engage, not just be lectured to.

I allowed myself to imagine that charter school leaders in my community would go to these innovative and engaging sessions—on different learning styles, early childhood brain development, culturally relevant pedagogy, social development fundamentals, learning through play, restorative justice, conflict resolution, nutrition for brain development, how to help cope with trauma through the arts, music, and drama, managing schools that are “zero-tolerance” when it comes to systemic oppression, how to recognize stereotypes and biases within yourself. I imagined attending these sessions with black people, Native American people, women, and youth, and that the sessions would be lead by these types of people.

Instead, it looked like every other conference. Fall in line, black people. We know what’s good for you.

All of the interesting debate and discussions took place outside the regular sessions.

At the end of the conference, African American charter school advocate Dr. Deborah McGriff spoke, as she was being inducted into the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ Hall of Fame. Here is what she said: “Things happening to us, not with us, for us, not by us, must end!”
– See more at:

June 24, 2015

Milwaukee Common Council Adopts Resolution Firmly Opposing Kooyenga/ Darling MPS Takeover Proposal

Filed under: MPS Takeover — millerlf @ 10:00 am

Introduced by Alderperson Tony Zielinski and adopted by the Milwaukee Common Council on June 21 2015

Resolution opposing the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program proposal currently pending in the Wisconsin Legislature.

This resolution expresses the City’s opposition to the provisions of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program proposal currently pending in the Wisconsin Legislature.

Whereas, The proposed Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program currently pending in the Wisconsin Legislature provides that the Milwaukee County Executive oversee the turnover of up to 5 struggling Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) district schools to public charter or private voucher school operators; and

Whereas, The proposed program would diminish the power of Milwaukee City residents to control their public school district by allowing non-City residents to indirectly control the operation of certain City public schools by playing a part in the election of the Milwaukee County Executive who would have the authority to intercede in MPS operations; and

Whereas, Turning over struggling MPS schools to public charter and private voucher school operators is no guarantee of success given the fact than many public charter and private voucher schools have been no more successful than MPS in improving the performance of low-performing schools; and

Whereas, A change in governance of struggling MPS schools offers no promise to remediate the root cause of poor performance in low-performing public schools and seems a thinly-veiled attempt by the state to privatize public schools; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, By the Common Council of the City of Milwaukee, that the City of Milwaukee opposes the provisions of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program proposal currently pending in the Wisconsin Legislature; and, be it

Further Resolved, That the City Clerk shall forward copies of this resolution to members of the City of Milwaukee’s delegation to the State Legislature and Governor Scott Walker.

June 18, 2015

“A train wreck you could see coming” – A lesson from Detroit about the Darling/Kooyenga MPS takeover plan

Filed under: Darling,MPS Takeover — millerlf @ 10:06 am

Milwaukee public schools has been led by Dr. Darienne Driver for one year. In that time MPS has taken unprecedented steps to stabilize its finances, reform its lower performing schools and aggressively establish a child-centered teaching and learning culture. Rather than support these efforts and the MPS Superintendent, Sen. Darling and Rep. Kooyenga continue to seek a policy that will undermine these efforts and cause significant harm to school reform in MPS.

There continue to be questions about the financial impact of the Darling/Kooyenga MPS takeover plan and at this point we have yet to see the final legislative language and there are any number of questions that can’t be precisely answered. What can be shared is that where similar experiments have been tried, particularly in Detroit, the results have been financially disastrous for both the school district and now school districts across the state of Michigan.
Knowing what we know today about what happened in Detroit, why would legislators in Wisconsin want to create the same chaos in Milwaukee?

As one republican legislator in Michigan stated recently about, “I think there is culpability here… we have some blood on our hands.”

Or as Detroit’s mayor recently told his colleagues, the takeover plan was “a train wreck you could see coming.”
If the people in Michigan knew this wasn’t going to work and their worst predictions have now come true, why would we go down the same path in Wisconsin?

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan made a compelling case last month that the Detroit Public Schools’ downward spiraling enrollment is partly attributable to efforts to fix its finances through emergency managers. The problem, Duggan told attendees at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, is that massive school closings, teacher layoffs and other cuts created enough uncertainty about the system’s future that parents moved their children elsewhere.

“It was a train wreck you could see coming,” he said, because emergency managers are temporary, but parents are making long-term decisions for their children.

Kelly, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on education, also acknowledged the state bears some responsibility for DPS’ financial mess.

The state has controlled DPS for much of the last 15 years. It has been run by governor-appointed emergency managers since 2009, and was under state control from 1999 until 2005.

“I think there is culpability here, we have been involved in the last 15 years in Detroit,” Kelly said. “While I would suggest it would be worse if we hadn’t intervened, we have some blood on our hands. And I don’t know if it’s worth $500 million or $50 million a year for 10 years, but there is some bit of culpability.”

When asked at last week’s Mackinac Policy Conference about why his reform plan doesn’t open the door more for allowing kids from Detroit to go to other districts, Snyder said he’s been down that road.

“I worked on that once before. And that one didn’t work out so hot,” he said. “For the amount of political capital and the attention that would drive, it would distract from getting the core solution done. So, I still believe that it should be something to be looked at longer term. But you’ve got to pick your priorities.”

Detroit schools deficit payoff proposal could cost every district in the state $50 per student.

According to the report, Detroit Public Schools is placed in the unusual circumstance of having to pay for a larger-than-average number of retirees with a dwindling work force. Staff cuts have meant contributions to the MPSERS system dropped from $137 million in 2007 to $84 million last year, but Detroit Public Schools’ contributions to MPSERS is still $280 per pupil above the state average.

Detroit Education Overhaul Would Cost Other Schools $50 Per Student.
Proponents say ‘not a bailout,’ but other districts not keen on chipping in.

Gov. Rick Snyder says his vision of the new Detroit public school system does not represent a bailout because it doesn’t ask for more taxpayer dollars. But one study says that school districts around the state will have to chip in $50 per pupil, which some superintendents aren’t happy about.

A statement from Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Michael Bonds and MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver regarding the Kooyenga/Darling proposal

Today, Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Michael Bonds called a plan released by Wisconsin Republicans Dale Kooyenga and Alberta Darling to turn over the Milwaukee Public Schools’ (MPS) lowest performing schools to Milwaukee County “seriously flawed” and said it will do “nothing for educational reform.”

Both Bonds and MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver expressed skepticism that the so-called “turnaround district” will do anything to improve outcomes for students, and voiced concern that the plan solely focuses on MPS as opposed to including schools across all sectors in the City of Milwaukee that need to improve student achievement.

“This plan removes decision-making from the democratically-elected school board and newly-appointed MPS superintendent, Dr. Darienne Driver,” stated President Bonds. “This comes at a time when MPS is making significant progress in the areas of financial stability, academics and community outreach.”

“This plan seems to focus more on closing public schools and reopening them as private or charter schools instead of focusing on improving achievement and the challenges our students face,” said Superintendent Driver.

“The state has done this once before when it created the voucher program,” Bonds added. “That’s the state’s first ‘turnaround district’ and after 20 years it remains an academic failure for students. According to a Public Policy Forum report in December 2014, the voucher schools are the lowest-performing sector of schools in Milwaukee.”
In communities where recovery districts have been tried, they have not yielded the results that students deserve and communities were promised. In New Orleans, nearly every school was taken over, but only four of those schools are above state average. There have been lawsuits and court settlements after failures with special education. Michigan may now be on the hook for millions of dollars of the Detroit school district’s debt after schools were taken away there.

“The Kooyenga/Darling plan provides indefinite oversight to a non-educator, the Milwaukee County executive, at a time when Milwaukee County is facing significant problems of its own. A Public Policy Forum report showed that MPS is in better financial condition than Milwaukee County,” stated Bonds.

Bonds also expressed concern the plan would allow for MPS schools and facilities to be turned over to voucher schools and charter schools. Schools with substantial improvement plans – driven by local community input – could be forced to scrap those plans and start from square one with a charter or private school operator that isn’t required to have local ties.

“I do believe in accountability for our schools,” stated Superintendent Driver. “We have a responsibility to provide a strong public education, but our schools and students need the support of all of our stakeholders to be successful. Our students are counting on it.”

June 11, 2015

Lawmakers deal MPS deathblow

Filed under: MPS Takeover,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 12:21 pm

HALL MONITOR — Lawmakers deal MPS deathblow

By Jay Bullock June 1, 2015 Bayview Compass
See blog at:

After Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee finished its late-night work on education funding last month, I posted this line from Shakespeare to Facebook, spoken by Romeo’s friend Mercutio, “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world.”

Mercutio has just been stabbed and he staggers offstage to die a few lines later.

It was, I thought, the only fitting response to the committee’s votes—and here I do not exaggerate—to bankrupt the Milwaukee Public Schools if its plan works as designed.

The JFC’s education policy hacks and slashes at MPS and public schools around the state, via a massive expansion of statewide private school vouchers, tight limits on how MPS deals with empty (or partly empty) school buildings, and even meddling in how some school boards are constituted.

But the deathblow is a plan to take schools from MPS and give them—buildings, contents, and students (but not the teachers!)—to voucher school operators or charter school programs. The plan would take up to three schools a year in the first two years, and up to five schools a year after that.

It’s the loss of funds from those students that will do the real damage. All of us in MPS, from Superintendent Darienne Driver to folks like me in classrooms, know that it won’t take much of a fiscal hit to send us into a spiral of default and dissolution. Driver who told a local TV program that MPS wouldn’t survive this plan.

Bay View resident and citywide MPS school board representative Terry Falk told me, “We can’t lose 20 schools and survive. Can we lose five schools? I don’t know.”

Like any longstanding organization such as General Motors or Ford, Falk suggested, MPS has legacy retiree-costs that make it uncompetitive with upstarts. Think Toyota or Volkswagen. When foreign automakers opened U.S. plants 20 or 30 years ago, Falk said, their cars could be made more cheaply because they didn’t have decades of retirees to support. The same is true for MPS when compared to new voucher or charter schools.

MPS enrolled 100,000 or more students for many years and had enough teachers to educate all of them. At that time, the district encouraged those teachers to retire early by offering a supplemental pension and retiree health insurance.
“People ask, ‘Why were you so foolish?,’” said Falk, who was an MPS teacher back in those heady days of high enrollment. “Actuarially, it was the correct decision.”

In other words, the district’s bean counters said it was cheaper to pay low salaries for young teachers than to pay high salaries for veteran teachers, including the retirement costs. With today’s high insurance premiums, that sounds crazy now, but a couple of decades ago it was not that expensive to provide insurance to retirees.

“It was an economic incentive for the district for teachers to retire at 55,” Falk said. However, MPS is still supporting many of those teachers, and it needs to plan budgets with funding for retirements among the current staff.
Today MPS enrolls around 80,000 students, its population reduced by students who are enrolled in voucher schools, charter schools, inter-district schools through open enrollment, and other programs that take students out of MPS’s traditional public schools. The lower the district’s enrollment, the greater the share of per-pupil funding that must go to those legacy costs. That means fewer funds for the schools, yet currents students still need to be taught.
“If we had 100,000 kids today, it wouldn’t be a problem,” Falk said.

But we don’t, and that is a problem.

Milwaukee’s Public Policy Forum issued a 2012 report about changes MPS enacted after the state’s Act 10 legislation gave districts power to impose change without negotiating with its unions. “We cut long-term costs from $2.6 billion to $1.4 billion,” Falk said of those changes. “I didn’t like it,” he added, “but a brand new teacher in MPS in the last couple of years gets no retiree health benefits and has to teach until at least 60.”

There’s also no supplemental pension, and all of us, new or not, pay more out of pocket for our state pension and skimpier health insurance coverage.

Still, PPF levied this dire warning: “The significant decline in enrollment has made balancing the district’s budget very difficult.” Falling enrollment, they said, “paints a bleak picture for fiscal solvency.”

So how much more can enrollment drop before MPS has to default on payments or even declare bankruptcy? I didn’t get a firm number from anyone. Public Policy Forum’s president Rob Henken cautioned me that “such an analysis would be extremely difficult to do” because there are a lot of variables and moving parts involved in setting MPS’s budget.
Falk couldn’t give a sure number, either, but he offered a guess. “We’re only talking about a few thousand students. That might make the difference,” he said.

If the first three schools handed off to outside operators are large high schools—and low-performing high schools are a constant challenge here—it might take just one year to send the MPS budget into default. If they’re smaller elementary or K-8 schools, it might take a few years to hit that mark.

There are other considerations, such as how much the state or the city will care about the situation. If MPS is facing insolvency, would the city assume some or all of its legacy costs? Would the state increase the district’s revenue limit to stave off disaster?

And, if not, what then? What of the tens of thousands of students in MPS’s remaining schools when the district, like Mercutio, is peppered for this world?

I just don’t know. But it looks like we may find out, and soon.

Jay Bullock teaches English at Bay View Middle and High School and tweets as @folkbum. Email him at

Who Is Representing the Citizens of Milwaukee in the Bucks Arena Negotiations?

Filed under: Milwaukee Arena — millerlf @ 12:10 pm

Franklyn Gimbel calls Bucks arena negotiations ‘uncivilized’

MJ Sentinel Bice 6/11/15
The head of the Wisconsin Center District has attacked those working on a deal to build a new $500 million arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, saying the talks were too secretive and “uncivilized.”

Franklyn Gimbel, chairman of the district, said he was particularly upset that he has yet to be informed about the details of the plan even though it would require the district to borrow heavily, take on new responsibilities and restructure its board.

Gimbel would be ousted as board chairman under the proposal.

“I’m very unhappy with how this financing bill was handled because it wasn’t transparent,” Gimbel said Friday. “Stakeholders like the Wisconsin Center District weren’t at the table. Decisions were made about them that were uncivilized.”

Last week, Gov. Scott Walker and other top officials unveiled the details of their plan to provide $250 million in public financing for the new arena.

The plan calls for the Wisconsin Center District to sell $93 million in zero-coupon bonds that would be repaid with income from the hotel, car rental and food and beverage taxes beginning in 2028. The total cost to the district for the bond issue would be about $200 million, including interest.

In addition, the proposal would merge the district with the BMO Bradley Center board and the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in a new superboard overseeing much of the city’s entertainment offerings.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said the board would be made up of six city appointees, six county appointees and three board members selected by the state. The state secretary of the Department of Administration would serve as board chairman.

Asked if Gimbel would be removed from the board, Abele said, “It’s still being tinkered with, but the idea is to start tabula rasa.”
In other words, Gimbel is as good as gone.
But no one has told him.

“Nobody’s talked to me — ever,” Gimbel said.

Gimbel said he knew that Abele wanted to oust him. But he said no one addressed the issue with him.
In fact, the bulk of what he knows about the deal has come from the media.

“I didn’t have sources — I had you and Don Walker,” Gimbel said, referring to the Journal Sentinel reporter who died last month. “I don’t think I got respect.”

Gimbel said his firm has been a Bucks season ticket holder and that he considers it important for the NBA franchise to stay in the city.

What upsets him, though, is that no one from the district had any input in the deal. He noted that he put “my heart and soul” into getting the Wisconsin Center convention center and the Milwaukee Theatre built and rebranding the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

In the end, Gimbel said he hopes he can stay on as a member of the new district board. He is currently an appointee of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

“I’m about ready to pack in the chair because it’s going to be replaced by a Republican bureaucrat. I don’t want to arm wrestle with the guy,” Gimbel said. “But I do think I’d like to stand for a short period of time during the transition. I’d still like to be a credible voice for expanding the convention center.”

His term expires in 2017.

Wisconsin Rapids Principal Schools Legislature on Qualified Teaching

Filed under: Educational Practices,Teaching,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 12:02 pm

Education: An endeavor to help build better lives

By Matt Renwick June 6, 2015
There are lots of occupations out there that do not demand a bachelor’s degree, including governor of Wisconsin. But teaching shouldn’t be one of them.

I was a classroom teacher for eight years, and now a school principal for just as long. Teaching is an incredibly complex and challenging craft. In my estimation, it takes at least three years of classroom experience beyond completed college experience for a teacher to become very good at his or her work. The foundational learning that occurs in undergraduate courses and during student teaching is essential. It is also only the beginning. Teaching truly is a profession that one learns as one does it, and the learning never ends.

Recently, I observed a teacher facilitate a math lesson on arrays (rows and columns of tiles to convey an equation or to form a shape). An uneducated bystander without the requisite background knowledge to understand teaching and learning would observe this lesson and probably think it was fine.

But that bystander would have no idea why. With a highly trained eye, here is what I saw:
■The intent of the lesson was clearly stated in writing, verbally and visually.
■The teacher kept the students active, allowing them to get up every 10 minutes or so between activities. This is pedagogically sound (How many people without a degree in education could accurately define “pedagogy”?).
■She used formative assessment, such as observing answers on held whiteboards, to guide her instruction and ensure that all students with a wide variety of abilities were ready for the next step.
■Small actions by the teacher avoided bigger problems with the students. For example, she used thoughtful language that focused on the positive of a student’s actions, instead of pointing out his faults and possibly causing a major behavior disruption. One wrong word could have led to 10 minutes of lost instruction.
■Wait time was given for a student who was struggling to process an answer and share it aloud.
■A clear segue between arrays and formal geometry was conveyed by the teacher only when every student was ready to cognitively make that transition.

This is only a snippet of the positive work I saw in her classroom and shared with her later that day. At our post-observation conference, I asked her how she thought she did. “Well, I wish my questions I presented for the students would have been more open-ended. I wanted to help them get to a deeper understanding of the math concept,” she said. Does this sound like someone who is less than a professional?

Teaching is a special vocation, reserved only for the very best and brightest. It takes both intelligence and empathy, a rare combination that appears regularly in our school and in many, many others in the state. To reduce our profession to something anyone can do clearly shows the ignorance of the policy-makers who somehow saw sanity in a decision they had no business addressing.

Attaining a license to teach in schools, whether public or private, shouldn’t be as easy as staying at a Holiday Inn Express. You don’t just wake up and become a highly qualified educator. It takes years of study, experience, reflection and collaboration to get to a point of excellence. Those who attempted to reduce our status as professionals did not succeed. We know better. All they did was to continue to set up public schools for failure in order to ensure privatization of public education gains momentum in Wisconsin. Education is more than just a job — it is a powerful endeavor to help build better lives.

Matt Renwick is principal of Howe Elementary School in Wisconsin Rapids.


Voucher Leader Jim Bender Once Again Exemplifies Double Standard

Filed under: Vouchers,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 11:52 am

In today’s MJS article on pushback to attacks on public education, Jim Bender a leader of School Choice Wisconsin (# 1 voucher industry organization in Wisconsin), said that superintendents statewide are “lobbying using state and local resources.” (See article at

This is the same voucher industry that has filled the halls of the Wisconsin state capital with bus loads of students to lobby for public funds to go to private schools. This was done on school days during school hours.

If Jim Bender really cared about educating all children, he would cut his ties with tea party politicians, the American Federation for Children and the Koch brothers. He would fight for more resources for public schools and demand real accountability.

June 4, 2015

Ald. Zielinski opposes Ramirez’s south side private school, holds out for indoor soccer facility

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:08 pm

Jun 4, 2015, Sean Ryan Milwaukee Business Journal

The Milwaukee Plan Commission will review the project on Monday.

Milwaukee Ald. Tony Zielinski opposes a planned private school on Milwaukee’s near south side, saying the project site instead should be saved for an indoor soccer facility for the community.

The proposed K-12 private school, valued at $60 million over two phases, is led by Husco International executive chairman Gus Ramirez. It is proposed at South Sixth Street and Harrison Avenue, on a property that Zielinski and other stakeholders had hoped would one day host a 100,000-square-foot soccer facility for the community. That facility was intended to give area youths something to do during the winter months.

Zielinski said there are no groups currently trying to bring that facility together. That soccer facility remains the highest and best use of the land, he said.

“I know the intentions are good,” he said of Ramirez’s school plan. “We have a difference of opinion, that’s all.”

Ramirez’s development team has acquired several properties for the school project, including 5.3 acres purchased in January from Joel Lee, a Milwaukee developer. Lee, working in partnership with a local task force, years ago bought that land with the intention of building a soccer facility there. The project never came to fruition, and Lee agreed to sell it to Ramirez with his commitment to make the athletic fields available to the community. Ramirez has pledged to let the community use the project’s planned gym and outdoor soccer field when the school is not in session.

Lee said he agreed to contribute $1 million to Ramirez’s project if he includes the proposed larger gym, which would have room for futsal courts, and the outdoor soccer field that youths in the community can use.

“I just want to see the kids who have been waiting for 10 years have an opportunity to participate,” Lee said.

However, Ramirez has not put any commitment in writing, a commitment Zielinski said he wants.

“The owner isn’t willing to commit in any legally binding way to access to the sports facility,” Zielinski said. “I think that’s a very reasonable request.”

Ramirez, at a public meeting on the project Wednesday, rejected putting that commitment in writing.

“No, that’s my commitment and I don’t do agreements on things I say because my word is primo,” he said.

Zielinski said he will urge the Milwaukee Common Council to reject the project when it comes under review this summer. That could be significant given the Common Council’s usual practice of following the wishes of the local alderman when considering zoning issues.

“What I’m going to try to do if this gets defeated is try to put together a team of interested parties to purchase this land,” Zielinski said.

If the Common Council rejects the project, Ramirez will likely seek approval for a scaled-down school from the Board of Zoning Appeals on a smaller land footprint. Under that scenario, the outdoor soccer field would be removed and the gym could be scaled back, he said Wednesday.

“Over half of the property is already rezoned in a way where a school could be built,” Ramirez said. “The rezoning is necessary for us to build the type of athletic facilities that we need.”

SOS: A distress signal to parents of Wisconsin public school kids

Filed under: Education Policy,Vouchers,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 9:13 am

SOS: A distress signal to parents of Wisconsin public school kids
By Mary Young, Special to
Published June 3, 2015
Support Our Schools (SOS) Wauwatosa was formed in opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed public education cuts.

For years, many of we suburban moms and dads have viewed the voucher school versus public school funding debate from the outside looking in.

After all, in Wauwatosa, none of our leaders ran on a platform to siphon money away from Wauwatosa public schools and instead route it to private schools. Our Wauwatosa schools are some of the best in the state – and the nation – so it seemed impossible that our leaders would try to “fix” something that isn’t broken.

We still cannot believe what actually happened.

Despite the clear call from thousands of parents statewide – 3,000 from Wauwatosa alone – to fully-fund our public schools and remove policy items from the budget, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) did the exact opposite.

On May 20, 2015, the JFC voted on education spending for the 2015-2017 biennium. After the vote, Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), a JFC member, said the JFC went “above and beyond restoring funds to K-12 education.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Sen. Vukmir and her JFC colleagues – including Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), who also represents Wauwatosa – reneged on their promises to support public education:

The JFC claims to have restored Gov. Walker’s $127 million cut in public school funding. This is not true. Much of this funding will pay for an expansion of the state’s funding of private and religious schools, siphoning away money from our kids’ classrooms.

The JFC also increased per-pupil payments for charter and voucher schools. This, too, will reduce general aid to public schools – and even merely “restoring” Gov. Walker’s cut to public education would have meant a decrease, once inflation is taken into account.

The JFC inserted a provision requiring public school districts to allow charter, voucher and home-schooled students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities sponsored by the public schools – at the expense of the public school districts.

Based on applications received, 2,613 more students will be eligible for the statewide voucher program in 2015-16. Of those students, 81 percent already attend private schools.

The JFC also increased the enrollment cap on the statewide voucher program in 2016-17. The cap will increase annually for 10 years, when it will be eliminated entirely.

If enacted, the JFC’s actions will result in an overall reduction of $600 million to $800 million in state support to public education – and represents a $600 to $800 million increase in taxpayer funding for private schools.

Over the last several months, Wauwatosa parents have joined parents across Wisconsin – Republicans, Democrats and independents – to oppose Gov. Walker’s proposed cuts to public education. We formed Support Our Schools (SOS) Wauwatosa, knocked on doors, forwarded thousands of letters, made telephone calls, sent e-mails and attended legislative hearings inside and outside of our city, all in support of our public schools.

Sen. Vukmir and Rep. Kooyenga repeatedly assured SOS Wauwatosa that public school funding would not be cut and that the JFC’s work would “surpass our expectations.” They have broken their promises. After telling us that “public schools are our top priority,” they have shown that they favor private schools. No legislator in any party ran for election on such a platform. But these public officials are creating a system that prioritizes private schools over public schools.

A recent Marquette University Law School poll showed that 78% of Wisconsinites support full funding for our public schools. Yet, for the first time ever, per-pupil funding for public education in Wisconsin will be below the national average. Wisconsin’s legislators are not listening.

National media outlets are taking notice, with the Washington Post asking, “What the heck is going on with Wisconsin public education?” They ask – and we ask – because it doesn’t benefit our kids, schools or parents.

Wisconsin created its charter and voucher programs to address perceived failings in some of Milwaukee’s public schools. Whether true or not, this perception does not justify expanding the charter and voucher programs and depriving high-achieving public schools of their funding.

Studies consistently show that businesses prefer to locate where educational achievement is high. Wisconsin’s public schools are some of the country’s highest-achieving schools and provide state businesses with high-quality workers. Underfunding public schools, which educate the vast majority of the state’s residents, will damage Wisconsin’s ability to compete with other states.

Our children are our future. They deserve the quality of public education for which Wisconsin has always been known. No matter how good private schools are, they do not represent Wauwatosa – or Wausau, Eau Claire or Lake Mills. Our public schools are the bedrock of Wisconsin’s communities, and weakening our public schools will weaken our communities.

In the short term, SOS Wauwatosa and other parents’ groups across the state will advocate for changes in the JFC’s budget proposals. In the long term, we will continue our fight for adequate funding for public schools beyond the 2015-17 biennium. We are sending an “SOS” to all parents to urge legislators to do what is right for our kids, our schools and our communities.

SOS Wauwatosa commits to remaining an active, permanent nonpartisan community organization that will educate and engage the public in decisions that affect our public schools.

Response: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Op-ed

MPS is changing the status quo
By Larry Miller June 3, 2015 MJS Op-ed

Charles J. Szafir’s May 31 opinion piece contains a glaring factual error that undercuts his entire piece — and it repeats the often-used but false claim that Milwaukee Public Schools leaders believe the “status quo” is acceptable (“At MPS, the status quo is unacceptable,” Crossroads). Both claims are just plain wrong. A clear reading of the piece also calls into question the credibility of a recovery district plan that does not include some of the city’s lowest-performing schools.

First, Szafir falsely tied an analysis showing low test results in reading among schools whose students are mostly African-American and low-income to MPS when it in fact represents results from voucher and charter schools as well, as PolitiFact Wisconsin has noted.

When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel took a closer look at data for such schools, it found that seven of the 10 lowest-performing schools in the group were, in fact, voucher schools. Of the five lowest-performing schools — schools where no students were proficient in reading — three are voucher schools.

If Szafir and his allies in the state Legislature are concerned about improving all of the low-performing schools in Milwaukee, why doesn’t their plan address low-performing voucher schools, as those schools have results that are the same or worse than those in MPS’ lowest-performing schools?

Put another way: Why is the status quo at voucher schools apparently acceptable to them?

Milwaukee Public Schools is already implementing its plans to accelerate student achievement growth, and the district is seeing early signs of success, a fact that Szafir failed to note. Specifically:
■MPS’ Commitment Schools effort to transform underperforming schools is accelerating reading and math achievement enough to narrow achievement gaps in most grades K-8.
■MPS’ GE Foundation Schools are seeing similar gains.
■MPS’ 5-in-1 collaboration at Carver Academy is improving school climate and academic outcomes.
■MPS’ work with Milwaukee Succeeds on a foundational reading pilot is seeing some encouraging early results.
■MPS’ four-year graduation rate is up slightly to 60.9% and five- and six-year rates (68.7% and 72.9%, respectively) show that significant numbers of MPS students are willing to take additional time, if necessary, to graduate.
■MPS’ eight strategic objectives — created with input from students, staff and the community — are in place to further accelerate improvement.

Szafir also plays fast and loose with facts about MPS buildings. He falsely claims that Bradley Tech High School is “operating well below capacity,” when its 2014-’15 enrollment of 889 puts it at about 95% of its capacity of 931 as identified in the district’s facilities master plan. He made a point of identifying the number of buildings his organization considers underutilized while failing to note that by his organization’s own standards, MPS has substantially more buildings that are at 100% capacity or above than are underutilized.

MPS has utilized buildings strategically to expand successful schools with waiting lists — such as Golda Meir School and Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School — and it will continue to do so, which helps address the overcapacity issue identified above.

Of the remaining MPS school buildings not currently in use, four already have been specifically identified as sites for expansion of sought-after programs, including international baccalaureate education, language immersion and a charter school. Another nine have been declared surplus by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors and transferred to the city for redevelopment. Yet another is being redeveloped into housing.

The efforts MPS is undertaking to improve outcomes for students may not have the “flash” of plans to strip local control of schools, to transfer public buildings to private entities or to fire teachers en masse. But they are far from the “status quo” and they have the benefit of being strongly rooted in what has worked and is working to improve achievement for students in Milwaukee.

Larry Miller is vice president of the Milwaukee School Board.

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