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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, September 19, 2008

That's okay; I don't need the job

by folkbum

See what happens when you don't go to the meetings?
The Milwaukee School Board voted Thursday night to begin looking into dissolving the Milwaukee Public Schools system.

The completely unexpected 6-to-3 vote followed a gloomy assessment of the short- and long-term financial situation of MPS from Superintendent William Andrekopoulos and several board members.
The vote was almost certainly symbolic more than anything else, a giant water balloon aimed straight at the people who for several decades now have stood idly by as the competing demands of expensive mandates and revenue restrictions have blown apart this district's ability to maintain the most basic services a school district needs to offer.

The article details a few of the ways those competing demands are currently working, and it will not surprise my regular readers. There's the increasing costs of special education, for example. As non-special education students leave the district through Choice or Open Enrollment, and as MPS continues to identify more and more of the remaining student as special education eligible (after the DPI sold us out on the recent lawsuit, MPS is now required to more aggressively identify, test, and label more students), the district special education population is approaching 25%. In some high schools, it's already that much and higher. Not only is it more expensive to educate these students, less and less of the money needed to do so is coming from the state and federal governments who mandate by law the expensive services we must provide.

Not mentioned are the burdens of the DPI's District Identified for Improvement (DIFI) mandates, which will require everything from mandatory summer school to extended school years to doubled-up reading and math instruction (where will those math teachers come from?), and the threat of financial punishment if we can't meet those demands.

There was also no mention of higher energy costs, the continued state of physical disrepair in many of the district's schools (the most common complaint among the students at my new school: the state of the bathrooms), even the skyrocketing cost of paper.

And then there's the fact that, because a year ago MPS did not tax to the maximum extent allowed by law, the state is giving us less in aid for the present school year. To spend the exact same amount this year as last, we'd need to increase the property tax levy almost 10%. If we wanted to spend more--to account for the additional burdens we face--we'd have to hold the city upside down and shake it until everything falls out of residents' pockets.

Perhaps the board's vote will attract the notice of those who need to start paying attention--the legislature, the DPI, our congressional delegation. More likely, it will simply increase the rate at which the parents who can keep bailing on MPS. Those departing students leaves a harder-to-teach population behind, compounding every one of our most expensive problems exponentially.

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