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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The first three things I would do, if I were the new guy

by folkbum

I have written endlessly about how much of what needs to change about the Milwaukee Public Schools is not so much problems in the schools but in Milwaukee--rampant poverty, parents who've checked out, health and addiction issues, and so on.

But as the new guy comes to town (he's visiting my school this morning, rumor has it) and prepares to take the reins, I am happy to offer three concrete steps that are actually within his power (pending board approval, which will be tough only for the first of these) to do that I think would improve MPS financially if not academically.

1. Shut down programs and consolidate schools. A decade ago, MPS had 20,000 more students and 20 fewer schools than it does now. We could shed 30 programs and not face overcrowding in schools. Cost savings would be minor, big picture-wise, but it would make management of the district easier.

2. Stop the "CO" merry-go-round. A "CO" is a central office suspension; when students, usually in the middle or high school, commits a significant infraction, they can face a disciplinary hearing that moves them from one school to another where, the theory goes, they might find a more suitable environment. But nothing happens to address the reasons behind students' misbehavior or motivate them to change. And kicking a bad seed out of a school, which could be good for the remaining students, just means a seat is open to accept another school's bad seed, which is no help at all. And it doesn't work--there is a core group of students who ride this train all year long, year after year, and just skate from school to school. The man-hours and money to maintain this system are wasted.

3. Settle the Jamie S. lawsuit. This is the special education lawsuit that has dragged on longer than most of our students have been in school. The appeal is a waste of money at this point, and a drag on the district.

There are other things that are not fully in the new guy's purview, but that are worth pursuing: Smaller class sizes and stronger interventions in key grades and subject areas, like middle-level reading and ninth-grade English; alternative schools that might take some of those "CO"-worthy students mentioned above; a fairer state-wide school funding formula; and renegotiating retiree benefits, to name a few. But the three above are a reasonable start and would set a tone that the new guy is serious about addressing behavioral, financial, and academic challenges in our schools.

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