Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

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.”


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