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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Monday, October 05, 2009

59 Milwaukee County residents support a mayoral takeover of MPS

by folkbum

You read that right--not 59 percent of, just 59 Milwaukee County residents support handing over the Milwaukee Public Schools to the mayor of Milwaukee.

At least, that's according to a new poll by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (done by the "public option" UW polling center):
According to the poll results, slightly more than half of the 112 Milwaukee County residents surveyed , or 53%, said they supported the proposal for a mayoral takeover of MPS, a plan proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in August.
When you do that math, that adds up to 59 people.

Now, I'm no statistician, but I do like to play one on the internet sometimes. I appreciate a well-constructed sample, and I have no doubt that the people at the UW aren't playing fast and loose with the data. But a sample size of 112 for a county of more than 900,000 people seems a bit of a stretch. Doing the math (using ARG's calculator), it turns out that this subsample has a margin of error of more than ±9%--not something to write home about.

Mostly, I'm suspicious because, in fact, the mayoral takeover has been put to voters, and it lost. It didn't come up in the last election of either Gov. Doyle or Mayor Barrett, but it was certainly on the table in the State Superintendent election this past spring between Tony Evers and Rose Fernandez. Both candidates put forward Milwaukee plans in the election, and Fernandez's plan was, while not a mayoral takeover, a similar concept. She proposed eliminating the current, elected school board and replacing it with a "turnaround team" made up of members appointed by herself, the mayor, and the county executive.

Fernandez lost by 14 points statewide. It was closer to 20 points in the City of Milwaukee.

What might have changed in six months to turn sentiment around? Nothing that I know of. In fact, in every public forum so far (like the one last week, and--I anticipate--the one tomorrow night) the public opinion has been strongly against the idea. The loudest support has been from the daily newspaper's editorial board and the business community, neither of which truly represents the parents and families in the cities.

Given the way community organizations are lining up against this--and the real risk of an unmendable divide in the community if it happens--it seems like 59 people don't make for a good reason to go ahead.

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