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Reform Plans from MPS School Board Advocates Too Little, Too Late

 Is that the smell of desperation in the air?

A modest crowd of anti-reformers has gathered to oppose Mayor Tom Barrett’s proposal for the city to take over MPS. The plan by Milwakee Mayor Tom Barrett is really quite simple — the Mayor would appoint a Superintendent who would run MPS, in many ways, like the existing Superintendent, but would be answerable to city leaders.

The shrieks are almost palpable but keep in mind — they are just shrieks. Apparently we’re all supposed to believe that this is some crazy coup de tat by Mayor Barrett and he wants to take away our rights as citizens to vote for a school board. This rhetoric is both simplistic and lacks a basic understanding of civics. After all, if the schools in MPS would get even worse than they have been allowed to become under a system of an elected school board, the public could simply throw out the elected Mayor at the next election. Whallah — democracy in action.

But let’s look at what has happened under this system of Milwaukee schools being under the not-so-careful watch of a school board. Parents opting to send their children to MPS schools has bottomed out. Many of the good kids are now attending choice or charter schools and state dollars have gone to fund these private schools at the same time as they have been stripped away from public schools.

What has the MPS response been? They’ve made up large orange and black banners that say “High Standards start here” to be applied to all of their schools.

High standards?

One of the bright spots in MPS has been Rufus King High School. King has been a magnet for kids who want to do well in school and stay away from the trouble makers who ought to have been expelled a long time ago. Well, MPS administrators have decided that since they have already closed several of the schools due to reduced enrollment, they’ve moved some of these trouble-makers into King. So now, the good students who want to learn have to deal with threats, intimidation and an unsafe learning atmosphere when the trouble-makers choose to show up for school.

Here’s some basic tips for the school board — if something is going well, don’t screw up what’s going well. Kids who don’t want to learn and don’t want to be in school shouldn’t be warehoused with the few kids who are looking for an oasis of education in the morass of a poorly managed school system.

Oh but now we’re all supposed to believe that these two plans that have come out from the anti-reformers are going to change something.

Well the orange and black banners didn’t work. More teetering around the edges isn’t going to change things either.

When the school system has difficulties, parents and people who plan to be parents vote with their feet. They move out of the district and go to the suburbs. What is left is people who either don’t plan on having children or people who don’t have the economic ability to move. That is exactly what has happened with MPS. Young people and young parents are getting out. They’re fleeing to the burbs.

Why are they doing this? They’re doing this because they don’t believe their children will get a good education and they don’t believe their children will be safe. No orange banner, nor calls for change from those who have resisted change will bring them back.

Walk the streets of Waukesha, Menomonee Falls, Oak Creek, Brown Deer or Franklin and ask young homeowners why they didn’t choose to buy in Milwaukee. The answer for many will be MPS. People want the best for their children and there is little confidence that MPS will provide them a quality education.

It’s really an issue of accountability. When a school system fails, the fingers usually get pointed toward city leaders, including the Mayor. If the Mayor is to take the heat, the Mayor ought to at least be able to make some changes when changes are needed. By continuing to have an ineffective part-time School Board, accountability will continue to be elusive.

In contrast, the Milwaukee Mayor has always been able to speak with and work effectively with State officials and even Federal officials — two key players who are necessary to bring to the table for substantive reforms. At the same time, school board members have failed to increase the graduation rates and have failed to find the right recipe for success.

If we really want high standards, we need to substantive changes and we need a substantive leader to make that happen. An orange banner just isn’t going to do it.

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