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Saturday, August 16, 2008

DPI to MPS: Spend More or Get Less

by folkbum

When the Milwaukee Public Schools was planning its budget a couple of months ago, they ran up against the fact that the state's school finance system was punishing MPS for choosing to tax and spend less in 2007-2008--punishing MPS by cutting state aid.

This week, the state Department of Public Instruction sent a memo to MPS related to the district's continued District Identified for Improvement (DIFI) status, which beginning this year slips to level three. Stephanie of the School Board Watch blog was in the audience when the memo was delivered to the Board's Innovation and School Reform Committee:
Members of the Innovation and School Reform Committee last night were presented with a memo from DPI that contained some surprising information. In light of MPS now being a level three (up from level two) district in need of improvement, DPI has issued various new requirements. [. . .] Members discussed the possible impact this could have on the budget, using the example of how extended instruction would be more costly. Director Morales discussed the memo in terms of it being "developmentally inappropriate" for young children and "financially inappropriate" for taxpayers.
An email circulating from Jennifer Morales adds a little more detail, but also this note:
I was chairing an Innovation and School Reform committee meeting tonight when I received a copy of a two-page list of new mandates from DPI to respond to our imminent DIFI-3 status. I almost couldn't go on with the meeting because I was so stunned. The superintendent has said he will be posting the mandates on the portal shortly so that the public can read them, but for now here are some highlights: [. . .]

Should MPS be unable to meet statutory or other deadlines identified by DPI, it will result in DPI withholding and/or reducing federal funds to MPS.

Beyond the unbelievable usurpation of Milwaukee's local control, these mandates will force us to do things that are not developmentally appropriate and further thwart our efforts to provide a diverse, well-rounded educational program.
I included just one "highlight," if you will, because the whole DPI memo is now available on the MPS website as a .pdf here, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. Some of what's there is expensive, including required summer school at every Title I school (read: just about all of them), extending the school year by at least 30 days at up to two schools, and extensive new IT data systems. The amount of extra funds MPS will get to meet these new requirements seems to be zero, and, as highlighted above, there is, in fact, the threat the MPS will have funds taken away if we can't pull it off.

In March I went to a DPI session on the district's DIFI status (Dani McCalin wrote it up for the MJS here; I wrote about it for the Bay View Compass but the archives aren't online yet), and State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster and the rest of the panel talked quite a bit about how they wanted to work with MPS, and that DIFI ought not be an antagonistic situation. I don't see how what DPI is doing here is anything but antagonistic.

Morales's email went on to note that the Tuesday, September 9 Innovation and School Reform Committee will be about the new DPI mandates. The meeting starts at 6:30 in the auditorium at Central Office.

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