MPS rejects takeover plan

The Milwaukee School Board and administration Friday rejected a controversial proposal that would have resulted in the takeover of some schools, saying the plan was vague, the funding plan unclear and elements conflicted with state law. The so-called “recovery district” plan was presented to MPS in April by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and his appointed commissioner, Demond Means.

As an alternative, Superintendent Darienne Driver and MPS School Board President Mark Sain proposed creation of a charter school offering an early childhood program in the former 35th Street Elementary School.

The Abele-Means plan was an outgrowth of a state law drafted by Republican Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Rep. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield and passed as part of the 2015-’17 state budget. The law created what’s known as the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP), which critics refer to as the MPS Takeover Plan.

Abele and Means have threatened that rejection of the proposal by MPS could force them to bring in outside operators to run the schools.

In a statement, Driver said MPS has examined the OSPP proposal over the past six weeks and identified the following concerns:

  • The academic and curricular programming lacks detail and clarity.
  • The school funding plan is unclear.
  • The school qualitative reviews outlined in both state law and the OSPP proposal have not been conducted.
  • The request for proposals seeking a school operator was not issued and steps have not been taken to select a school.
  • The OSPP proposal contains elements which contradict the legislation, namely that staff at the OSPP schools will remain employees of the district with little guidance about how this would be compliant with state law.

The statement continued:

Given these concerns, we recently requested a meeting with County Executive Abele and Commissioner Means to discuss an alternative to the OSPP proposal. We know the fundamental needs of our families include greater access to high-quality early childhood education, sustained resources and support, stable school communities, rigorous curriculum led by strong instructional leaders and having a voice in the decisions that impact their children.

With these critical factors in mind, and given that the qualitative analysis as outlined in the OSPP proposal was not completed, selecting a school would be unfair to school communities because they have not had an opportunity to participate in a qualitative review. We have developed an alternative option that will add value and align with the critical work already underway at MPS:

  • Create a high-quality early childhood education program, addressing a community need acknowledged by local leaders and the Speaker’s Task Force on Urban Education.
  • Provide the choice for families to opt-in to OSPP.
  • Locate the program inside the former 35th Street Elementary School, which is well suited to serve our youngest learners; it would share a separate and distinct space in the same building with Assata, an MPS partnership school; this is a model that has been used in the past and allows for improved achievement and better student and family engagement and support at both schools.
  • Next year, as outlined in the OSPP proposal, would be a planning year, with the program opening in the 2017-18 school year.

Improving student outcomes is challenging and much work remains. As a district, we have implemented strategies for school turnaround rooted in collective impact including:

  • Developing intentional, mutually beneficial partnerships.
  • Making data-informed decisions.
  • Implementing research-based programs.
  • Strengthening current infrastructure.
  • Maximizing resources and managing our assets.

Our efforts are yielding results. More students are earning scholarships with a record-breaking $47.8 million awarded this year; more high schools are ranked among the best in the state and nation; and over 100 MPS schools are recognized for promoting positive behaviors by an independent statewide organization. Community engagement is leading to stronger families and a healthier community. With ongoing support from committed community partners, we will continue to see positive results.

MPS is committed to ensuring that all partnerships bring additional value and enhance our current standard of care. In doing this, we must also ensure our school communities are kept intact and we believe our alternative does just that. We are prepared to discuss this alternative with County Executive Abele and Commissioner Means and will continue to keep you informed throughout the process.

Here is a video of the news conference posted by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA):