Bay View High School Marching band looking spiffy!

June 1, 2015

The Bay View High School Marching Band under the direction of Michele Kartz participated in the 150th- Anniversary Milwaukee Memorial Day Parade in downtown Milwaukee on May 25.   PHOTO COURTESY PENNY MANKE

The Bay View High School Marching Band under the direction of Michele Kartz participated in the 150th- Anniversary Milwaukee Memorial Day Parade in downtown Milwaukee on May 25. PHOTO COURTESY PENNY MANKE

 


BOOK REVIEW — Bootstrap New Urbanism: Design, Race, and Redevelopment in Milwaukee

June 1, 2015

By Virginia Small 

By Joseph A. Rodriguez, Associate Professor,
Department of History, UW-Milwaukee
Lexington Books, August 2014

A Historian Looks at Milwaukee’s Recent Reinvigoration

A city’s identity develops over time, shaped by many forces. In Milwaukee, New Urbanism, a major urban-planning philosophy and movement, helped redefine the city’s character and public persona. Many credit the principles of New Urbanism for the revitalization of Milwaukee that began in the late 1980s.

Author Joseph A. Rodriquez highlights some positive influences of this movement in Bootstrap New Urbanism: Design, Race and Redevelopment in Milwaukee. He also acknowledges its limits as a problem-solving tool.

New Urbanism concepts underpin the three-mile Riverwalk along the Milwaukee River; the revival of the forlorn Third Ward into a commercial, residential, and creative hub; the growth of housing downtown; and the transformation of the Menomonee Valley—that gritty vestige of the moribund Rust Belt—with entertainment venues, businesses, and parkland.

Rodriguez also highlights self-help efforts—bootstrapping by individuals and groups to improve neighborhoods, host cultural celebrations, and address thorny problems. Here again, Rodriquez’s warts-and-all history recounts mixed results.

Milwaukee’s biggest cheerleader for New Urbanism was Mayor John Norquist (1988-2003). He taught urban planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before becoming mayor and later headed the Congress for New Urbanism.

New Urbanism’s goals include increasing density through mixed-use development, decreasing car dependency, making cities walkable and bike-friendly, and using smart design to promote livability. A local proponent of the movement is the news website Urban Milwaukee.

Despite New Urbanism’s emphasis on pedestrian-friendly cities, the car is still king in Milwaukee. Rodriguez asserts that the Menomonee Valley’s reinvention was based in part on businesses being able to build large campuses with ample parking, as is the case in many suburbs. Potawatomi Casino, Miller Park, and the Harley-Davidson Museum, three new entertainment venues in the valley, all rely on the automobile. The inability of regional transit to take hold, despite efforts by Norquist and others, has kept Milwaukee car-centric.

As for bootstrapping, Rodriquez praises many new nonprofits and their bands of volunteers. Three Bridges Park and Lakeshore State Park, which took shape through the efforts of nonprofits, are examples of the accomplishments of volunteer groups. Volunteers have also created community gardens and urban-agriculture programs, especially in distressed neighborhoods.

Rodriguez lauds the many friends-of-parks groups that have formed under the umbrella of the  nonprofit Park People of Milwaukee County. He notes the preservation work of watchdog groups including Preserve Our Parks and Milwaukee Riverkeeper. Milwaukee’s proliferation of popular ethnic festivals has also occurred through volunteer labor, according to Rodriquez. He says many such  “self-help” contributions have efficiently helped redefine Milwaukee’s economy and identity.

Rodriquez also describes how recent influxes of immigrants, including those of Hispanic and Hmong descent, have helped stabilize Milwaukee’s population by anchoring specific geographic areas, often near supportive churches. He notes that Milwaukee’s parks, even though chronically defunded, aid in the development of strong communities.

Rodriguez, a UWM associate professor of history and urban studies, also focuses on ways redevelopment efforts have fallen short. Milwaukee, like other cities, has declined over decades, the result of powerful economic forces (including globalization), tremendous flight to the suburbs, and the loss of good jobs in the city. These left a legacy of persistent poverty, racial and ethnic segregation, and troubled schools and neighborhoods, all of which, he asserts, cannot be overcome simply by people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Rodriquez does not pull punches about practices and attitudes that reinforced racial segregation and inequality. He lays bare the impact of the abdication by suburbanites in addressing city problems caused or aggravated by suburbanization.

A theme Rodriquez explores in depth is Milwaukee’s reputation as a “conservative city” and what that has meant—for better and for worse. He traces how the city’s origins as a largely German and Polish settlement promoted thrift and caution, but he says this conservatism has sometimes been exaggerated. He also analyzes Milwaukee’s long-time self-image as a “second city,” and how that has sometimes inspired over-compensatory public policy and “rebranding” campaigns.

Rodriguez also explores Milwaukee’s history as a “good-time” place, fueled by its brewing heritage. A chapter chronicles efforts to reignite the city through alcohol-based ventures. After the big breweries left, Rodriguez writes that Milwaukee revved the “entertainment machine” as an economic catalyst, including ever-more nightlife districts, a new casino, and alcohol sales in parks. Rodriguez dissects the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s “No RSVP Needed,” a weekly photo feature showing smiling people in a nightclub, especially ones “in neighborhoods undergoing gentrification.” The feature ran from 2002 to 2007 and vividly promoted Milwaukee as a place with endless watering holes suited to every interest and budget.

Rodriguez raises important questions and avoids facile solutions. He emphasizes the limits of volunteerism and the fallacy of placing too much pressure on community groups with too few resources. He also notes that promoting bootstrapping often leads to blaming those unable to rise above challenges.

I’ve never viewed bootstrap mythology operating at a macro level since it is usually applied at the micro level, to American rugged individualism, especially among immigrants who succeed through persistence. But Rodriguez looks at it through a wider lens, pointing out that the lack of jobs, transit, and basic community amenities can hinder success, despite good intentions. He writes, “Yet in advocating bootstrap new urbanism, civic leaders have forgotten about how to demand more federal and state resources in solving urban problems.”

That trend is not specific to Milwaukee. Rodriguez says, “Instead, local leaders view their city as competing with other cities for tourists, middle class residents, businesses and jobs.”

I found this book refreshingly honest and fair. Rodriquez acknowledges success stories without boosterism. As the city and county grapple with diminished budgets and recurring challenges, it can be helpful to place those issues within a historical context. Rodriguez describes how conscientious urban design and self-help strategies can help a city remake itself. He also warns that these methods must be balanced by tapping resources far beyond the city limits.

If you can’t afford the hefty textbook price ($95), check it out of a Milwaukee Public Library. This unadorned view of Milwaukee’s history deserves to be widely read and discussed.


South Shore Farmers Market to begin 16th season

June 1, 2015

By Sheila Julson

The members of the South Shore Farmers Market planning committee. Counter clockwise from the bottom: Angie Tornes, Adam Horwitz, Mike O’Toole, Chad VanDierendonck, Kurt Mihelich, Sue Boyle, Mary Beth Driscoll, and Stephanie Harling. Not visible in the photo: Brigid Globensky and Kathy Mulvey

The members of the South Shore Farmers Market planning committee. Counter clockwise from the bottom: Angie Tornes, Adam Horwitz, Mike O’Toole, Chad VanDierendonck, Kurt Mihelich, Sue Boyle, Mary Beth Driscoll, and Stephanie Harling. Not visible in the photo: Brigid Globensky and Kathy Mulvey

The South Shore Farmers Market (SSFM) has connected people seeking quality local food with the growers who produce it since 1999. From modest beginnings with just a few small canopies and 13 vendors, the market has grown to 40 vendors and become a social gathering place for the community—all played out against the splendid backdrop of Lake Michigan.

Angie Tornes, one of the market’s original founders, is the 2015 season’s committee chair. She said that in the late 1990s when she and other organizers approached South Shore Park Watch (recently renamed Friends of South Shore Park) with the idea of forming a farmers market, there were few in the area, except for the West Allis, Cathedral Square, and West Town markets.

Kathy Mulvey, who was president of South Shore Park Watch at that time, liked the idea so much that she joined the market committee.

Mulvey said there was initially opposition from a small but very vocal group of Bay View residents. They expressed fear that a market might entail constructing permanent buildings in the park, and they had concerns about noise. “We made a point of visiting all the households on the perimeter of the park and explained to them what we had in mind. We addressed issues that had been raised, which helped,” said Mulvey.

Once the market was a go, the decision was made to focus on vendors who would provide food products and to exclude craft vendors. The committee also limited the types of vendors so the market would not be saturated with sellers of a particular item, Mulvey said. Those policies are still in effect today.

Interest from the community and from vendors rapidly expanded over the years, and currently the Saturday-morning market includes 40 vendors, on average. Most of the vendors sell produce, Tornes said, but there are also usually three bakery vendors, two coffee vendors, and a couple of sellers who offer cheese, eggs, meats, flowers, and prepared foods.

Potted annuals and perennials and cut flowers have long been on offer at the South Shore Farmers Market, as they were at the 2010 market when this photo was taken. PHOTO KATHERINE KELLER

Potted annuals and perennials and cut flowers have long been on offer at the South Shore Farmers Market, as they were at the 2010 market when this photo was taken. PHOTO KATHERINE KELLER

The 2015 season will bring back such favorites as Wild Flour Bakery, one of the original vendors. Several long-time Hmong produce farmers will also return. Each year, one of the SSFM committee tasks includes sorting through a waiting list of approximately 200 vendors, each eager for a spot at the market.

The addition of music acts, Tornes noted, is one of the biggest departures from the market’s original structure. Her husband Mark Budnik is in charge of booking entertainment. “He started out having a few local musicians, but the music now is really topnotch musicians from the area,” Tornes said. “There is also a waiting list for musicians. Mark likes a lot of these acts very much, but he also likes to mix it up a little bit and offer diverse performers.”

The 2015 music schedule includes diverse genres including polka, folk, Celtic, and blues. Other entertainers including Tamarind Tribal Belly Dance and Randa the Clown will perform.

Mulvey said the market’s growth has brought many new needs, including managers. At least one committee member is scheduled to be present each market day to answer questions and address any issues that arise. While the committee is pleased that the market has become a popular gathering place for neighbors to meet and socialize, Mulvey said committee members occasionally need to patrol traffic. When a gathering takes place on the footpath and impedes market traffic, someone from the committee will request those engrossed in conversation, to move to the side.

The market attracts many people who bring their canine companions along for the outing. Mulvey said that in the early days of the market, there was an ordinance that banned dogs in South Shore Park, and that some people were quick to point that out. “Some people wanted us to ban dogs, but half of our customers wouldn’t come if we did that. It didn’t seem like a good option,” she said.

Eventually, Mulvey said, dogs were permitted in the park and there have been no problems. SSFM committee members watch for dogs who sniff food, for unsociable dogs, and owners who don’t pick up after their pets. “Then we’ll talk to them and say, ‘Your dog just had his nose in this loaf of bread, so you now just bought it,’” she said with a chuckle.

Street parking can be scarce, but Tornes said more customers are walking and biking to the market. She noted that many real estate agents use SSFM as a selling point when showing homes close to the park.

Facebook has also increased market traffic. “We still have low-tech sandwich boards and fliers but there’s interaction on the SSFM Facebook page,” Tornes said. The committee is working on updating the market’s website.

Most founding SSFM committee members still serve today, and Mulvey said that during the market’s run, she realized how hungry people in Bay View are for not just good, locally-grown food, but also for a meeting place to come together and talk to their neighbors. “I love the market,” Mulvey said. “It has been a very good addition to Bay View.”

The South Shore Farmers Market is held each Saturday from 8am to Noon, June 13 to October 10, in South Shore Park, 2900 S. Shore Drive in Bay View. There is no market July 11, the weekend of the Frolics festival.

South Shore Farmers Market 2015 Events

June 13 Geoff Marsh – Fire Circus Show! 9:30am
The Squeezettes – Good time Music Polkafied! 10:30am

June 20 Acoustic Chill – Matt Schroeder & Linda Lee 10:00am  Finger-Style guitar and Vocal stylings

June 27 Grasping At Straws 10:00am
Energetic old Americana, country & blues

July 4 Tamarind Tribal Belly Dance 9:30am
Don Linke Trio – Swingin’ Jazz Organ & Guitar Trio 10:30am

July 11 NO MARKET 
SOUTH SHORE FROLICS 

July 18 Frogwater w/Lil Rev 10:00am
From Irish and blues to boogie and bayou

July 25 Mississippi Sawyer 10:00am
Old-Time & Traditional Music Trio

August 1 Thriftones 10:00am
Original rock, folk, blues & country

August 8 Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices, “In Good Company” 10:00am – Singing Broadway, Folk & Pop

August 15 John Stano 10:00am
Guitarist, Singer, Songwriter

August 22 Randa the Clown – Fun & Games 9:30am
Fox & Branch – Family & Kid’s Folk Tunes 10:30am

August 29 The OK Factor 10:00am
Classical Crossover/Alternative Folk duo

Sept. 5 The Garlic Mustard Pickers
Acoustic Eclectic Celtic 10:00am

Sept. 12 Tamarind Tribal Belly Dance 9:30am
Painted Caves – North African Surf Music 10:30am

Sept. 19 Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra 10:00am
Antique Music for Modern Minds

Sept. 26 Barb & Tom Webber 10:00am
American Roots Rock & Folk

October 3 Jesse Walker’s Hitch 10:00am
Old time country & blues duo

October 10 Bay View Middle & High School Marching Band 10:00am – The Musical Stars of Tomorrow, Today!

Sheila Julson, sjulson@wi.rr.com, is a freelance writer and blogs at cappersfarmer.com/blogs/return-to-our-roots


Color abounds on Bay View’s Main Street

June 1, 2015

By Sheila Julson

Karen Matt is seated next to several of the baskets she created for the Bay View Business Improvement District. The baskets will hang from streetlight poles along Kinnickinnic from Becher to Morgan.     PHOTO JENNIFER KRESSE

Karen Matt is seated next to several of the baskets she created for the Bay View Business Improvement District. The baskets will hang from streetlight poles along Kinnickinnic from Becher to Morgan. PHOTO JENNIFER KRESSE

This summer the stretch of Kinnickinnic Avenue between Morgan and Becher will be embellished with vivid flowers and vines growing in 60 baskets hanging on streetlight poles.

The baskets are a project of the Kinnickinnic Avenue Business Improvement District, BID #44.

Mary Ellen O’Donnell, chair of the BID’s streetscape beautification committee, said the BID decided to double the number of baskets this year to enhance the impact. In previous years, they hung 30 baskets between Becher Street and Oklahoma Avenue. “We’ll have 60 baskets this summer and expand further south to include the entire geography of the BID up to Morgan Avenue,” O’Donnell said. “The KK BID is large, and there are more pockets of activity [in some areas] than others, but it was important for us to be sure the southern end of the BID is adequately represented.”

The BID hired Plant Land, a garden center at 6204 S. Howell Ave., to provide the baskets. Karen Matt and her brother Mark Jorgensen own the business.

Matt designs and creates the baskets sold at Plant Land and she designed the baskets for the BID. They are bedecked with dark red and hot pink Suncatcher petunias, accented with contrasting chartreuse sweet potato vines—Marguerite ipomoea.

The BID invested $3,000 in the baskets, plus $900 for the annual city permit to hang them on its light poles.

Black Eagle Construction, a Milwaukee company, was contracted to water and maintain the baskets. The business is Native American-owned and employs people participating in a transitional jobs program, O’Donnell said. They will water and maintain the flower baskets three times per week at a cost of approximately $6,000 for the season, which was less than many other proposals, O’Donnell said.

Plant Land was selected because of its longtime community presence and because its quote was reasonable compared to others, according to O’Donnell.

“They also have an interesting approach, as they’re one of the few nurseries that does its own soil blend,” O’Donnell said. “It’s labor intensive, but it results in better plant material. Karen had been wonderful to work with in terms of helping us design baskets to meet our goal to maximize the impact, but minimize the maintenance cost of them.”

Karen Matt creates a multitude of baskets at Plant Land that vary in size, shape, form, and pot style, as well as the plants they host.   PHOTO KATH:ERINE KELLER

Karen Matt creates a multitude of baskets at Plant Land that vary in size, shape, form, and pot style, as well as the plants they host. PHOTO KATHERINE KELLER

Family Business

Matt’s and Jorgensen’s parents, Tom and Estelle Jorgensen, established Plant Land in 1968. Tom was an MPD police officer, Matt said. When they started their business, neither Tom nor Estelle had experience operating a garden center.

The family lived on First Street and Howard Avenue before moving to the house on the Plant Land property. Matt said she began working for her parents when she was 12.

Matt and Jorgensen bought the business from their mother in 1990.

Later, Matt worked outside of the green industry for 10 years but returned to Plant Land in 1987. She taught herself basket design. “I took a floral design class, but that didn’t really play into basket work,” Matt said. “I’ll consult and read books about plants and flowers, but the work is more practical.”

Matt designs and creates all of the baskets that are sold at the garden center. The soil used is organic black peat. “It’s the best fertile, loose soil,” Matt said. “We steam it at 180 degrees, which kills any bad bacteria. Then we mix it with peat moss and perlite, which make it looser. Perlite is a product of volcanoes, a form of obsidian rock.

Plant Land sources its soil from Certified Products, Inc. in New Berlin.

Matt said the BID was specific about what it wanted, and she guided them to select the best low maintenance plants. The Marguerite sweet potato vine is the biggest and longest type vine, she said, and Suncatcher petunias bloom all summer. Suncatchers, unlike other varieties of petunias, do not need regular deadheading, which is the removal of fading or dead flowers. And although they may need to be trimmed once during summer months, the no-deadheading attribute makes the Suncatcher a good choice for hanging baskets, Matt said.

For the BID baskets, Matt placed water beads at the bottom of each pot to retain moisture and then covered them with soil. After the soil settled, Matt planted the petunias and the sweet potatoes.

Matt also offered a 20 percent discount to Kinnickinnic Avenue businesses that wanted additional baskets to hang outside their buildings and storefronts.

Bold Baskets

Matt creates two of each basket design for the garden center. She takes photos and notes which basket designs were good sellers, and makes more of those the following season. She said she also gets ideas from customers.

For people who want to make their own baskets, Matt stresses that good quality soil, loose and not too heavy, is the most important factor. Watering is second. “Hanging baskets need to be watered every day,” she explained. “Baskets are hanging up and exposed to wind, which dries roots.”

Matt also recommends water-soluble fertilizer. Plant Land sells many types, including Dr. Earth organic fertilizer, which Matt said is very popular. She uses Jack’s Classic, which is what her parents used.

Plant Land does not use any synthetic chemicals on its plants. Ladybugs are used in the greenhouse to control aphids. Matt and Jorgensen order their ladybugs from a company in Arizona.

Plant Land is open from April through August, but Matt said some people stop by during March. “That’s when we begin planting and have the gates open. People just want to walk around, smell the aroma of dirt, and see green to help curb the winter gloom,” she said.

Matt said Plant Land has many young customers looking for vegetable plants. She is pleased to see a new generation taking up gardening.

Matt loves her work and said she wakes up every morning thinking of combinations to put in the hanging baskets, “I like the people,” she said, “and everybody who comes in is happy. Some of our customers have been coming here since 1968. I grew up with them, and now they now bring their kids. It’s the most pleasant way to earn a living.”

Note: The KK BID is seeking community input on the KK streetscape initiative. Meetings are open to the public and will be held June 13 from 10am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 4:30pm at the Bay View Library, and June 18 at 6pm at Bay View High School library. More info: Carisse 414-704-4892.

Sheila Julson, sjulson@wi.rr.com, is a freelance writer and blogs at cappersfarmer.com/blogs/return-to-our-roots


IN BALANCE — The Golden Month

June 1, 2015

By Sheri LM Lee, MSOM, C.Ac., LMT

HEADSHOT SHERI LEEThe moments following birth elicit emotions of excitement and awe as new life is celebrated. It is a powerful time when a woman becomes a mother and is transformed—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Soon after the new baby is welcomed, a mother is often left on her own to care for herself and her baby amidst these overwhelming changes she is facing. There is an expectation in American culture that pushes women to simply ‘bounce back’ from pregnancy, and well-meaning family and friends assume she will adapt easily to motherhood and return to her normal daily routines.

However, without support, she will likely struggle. In fact, the new mom may even neglect her own health and wellbeing.

Many traditional cultures believe that the health of a mother directly impacts her ability to bond with and nurture her new baby. In order to properly nourish and support a newborn, the mother, like the infant must be given support and nurturance. A strong, healthy mother is able to feed and care for her baby more readily. She is more likely to experience mental clarity. She will likely suffer less from emotional lows, like depression. A strong, healthy mother is able to bond with her baby as she forms and solidifies the foundation with the new member of her family. The first weeks after birth are a most precious time.

In Chinese medicine, this crucial period is referred to as the Golden Month. The 30-40 days following childbirth are dedicated to promoting rest and recovery.

Childbirth taxes the physical body. It depletes a mother of blood and qi (energy). In order to rebuild both, a mother must take special care to ensure a full recovery. Her health for months or years to come may be impacted by how well she is cared for and able to care for herself in the first weeks after giving birth.

During her Golden Month, a woman should be nourished with easily digestible foods, warmed with herbs and massage, supported by loved ones, and encouraged and given opportunities to rest, in the way of Chinese Medicine. She is also given acupuncture and herbs as an essential part of care to support lactation and healing.

A mother who does not adequately recover from the stress of birth and pregnancy may suffer lasting effects, including fatigue, low back pain, joint pain, difficult or painful menstruation, anxiety, poor vision, headaches, and more.

The demands and expectations of our modern culture may not provide for a true Golden Month, however, family and friends can support a new mother by gifting her with nourishing food. A healthy start to motherhood begins with warming soups, broths, and congees (rice porridge). If you know a new mom, encourage her to stay home, bundled-up and warm. In-home visits by those who provide care for new mothers are desirable. Postpartum care services make a lovely gift. Mothers should be encouraged to accept help and care by loved ones.

To learn more about Chinese medicine postpartum care, consult a provider for recommendations and an individualized treatment plan.

Bay View resident, Sheri Lee, MSOM, C.Ac, LMT operates 8 Branches Chinese Medicine (8branches.com), where she and her colleagues provide holistic health care for the whole family.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this column is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or care.


HALL MONITOR — Lawmakers deal MPS deathblow

June 1, 2015

By Jay Bullock

Jay1headshotAfter Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee finished its late-night work on education funding last month, I posted this line from Shakespeare to Facebook, spoken by Romeo’s friend Mercutio, “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world.”

Mercutio has just been stabbed and he staggers offstage to die a few lines later.

It was, I thought, the only fitting response to the committee’s votes—and here I do not exaggerate—to bankrupt the Milwaukee Public Schools if its plan works as designed.

The JFC’s education policy hacks and slashes at MPS and public schools around the state, via a massive expansion of statewide private school vouchers, tight limits on how MPS deals with empty (or partly empty) school buildings, and even meddling in how some school boards are constituted.

But the deathblow is a plan to take schools from MPS and give them—buildings, contents, and students (but not the teachers!)—to voucher school operators or charter school programs. The plan would take up to three schools a year in the first two years, and up to five schools a year after that.

It’s the loss of funds from those students that will do the real damage. All of us in MPS, from Superintendent Darienne Driver to folks like me in classrooms, know that it won’t take much of a fiscal hit to send us into a spiral of default and dissolution. Driver who told a local TV program that MPS wouldn’t survive this plan.

Bay View resident and citywide  MPS school board representative Terry Falk told me, “We can’t lose 20 schools and survive. Can we lose five schools? I don’t know.”

Like any longstanding organization such as General Motors or Ford, Falk suggested, MPS has legacy retiree-costs that make it uncompetitive with upstarts. Think Toyota or Volkswagen. When foreign automakers opened U.S. plants 20 or 30 years ago, Falk said, their cars could be made more cheaply because they didn’t have decades of retirees to support. The same is true for MPS when compared to new voucher or charter schools.

MPS enrolled 100,000 or more students for many years and had enough teachers to educate all of them. At that time, the district encouraged those teachers to retire early by offering a supplemental pension and retiree health insurance.

“People ask, ‘Why were you so foolish?,’” said Falk, who was an MPS teacher back in those heady days of high enrollment. “Actuarially, it was the correct decision.”

In other words, the district’s bean counters said it was cheaper to pay low salaries for young teachers than to pay high salaries for veteran teachers, including the retirement costs. With today’s high insurance premiums, that sounds crazy now, but a couple of decades ago it was not that expensive to provide insurance to retirees.

“It was an economic incentive for the district for teachers to retire at 55,” Falk said. However, MPS is still supporting many of those teachers, and  it needs to plan budgets with funding for retirements among the current staff.

Today MPS enrolls around 80,000 students, its population reduced by students who are enrolled in voucher schools, charter schools, inter-district schools through open enrollment, and other programs that take students out of MPS’s traditional public schools. The lower the district’s enrollment, the greater the share of per-pupil funding that must go to those legacy costs. That means fewer funds for the schools, yet currents students still need to be taught.

“If we had 100,000 kids today, it wouldn’t be a problem,” Falk said.

But we don’t, and that is a problem.

Milwaukee’s Public Policy Forum issued a 2012 report about changes MPS enacted after the state’s Act 10 legislation gave districts power to impose change without negotiating with its unions. “We cut long-term costs from $2.6 billion to $1.4 billion,” Falk said of those changes. “I didn’t like it,” he added, “but a brand new teacher in MPS in the last couple of years gets no retiree health benefits and has to teach until at least 60.”

There’s also no supplemental pension, and all of us, new or not, pay more out of pocket for our state pension and skimpier health insurance coverage.

Still, PPF levied this dire warning: “The significant decline in enrollment has made balancing the district’s budget very difficult.” Falling enrollment, they said, “paints a bleak picture for fiscal solvency.”

So how much more can enrollment drop before MPS has to default on payments or even declare bankruptcy? I didn’t get a firm number from anyone. Public Policy Forum’s president Rob Henken cautioned me that “such an analysis would be extremely difficult to do” because there are a lot of variables and moving parts involved in setting MPS’s budget.

Falk couldn’t give a sure number, either, but he offered a guess. “We’re only talking about a few thousand students. That might make the difference,” he said.

If the first three schools handed off to outside operators are large high schools—and low-performing high schools are a constant challenge here—it might take just one year to send the MPS budget into default. If they’re smaller elementary or K-8 schools, it might take a few years to hit that mark.

There are other considerations, such as how much the state or the city will care about the situation. If MPS is facing insolvency, would the city assume some or all of its legacy costs? Would the state increase the district’s revenue limit to stave off disaster?

And, if not, what then? What of the tens of thousands of students in MPS’s remaining schools when the district, like Mercutio, is peppered for this world?

I just don’t know. But it looks like we may find out, and soon.

Jay Bullock teaches English at Bay View Middle and High School and tweets as @folkbum. Email him at
mpshallmonitor@gmail.com.


PARENTHESIS — Travel with kids

June 1, 2015

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

NEW Jill Maher Headshot Dec 2013Seven and a half years ago, I drove our then-newborn alone. I still have poignant memories of her in a rear-facing car seat as we journeyed to Children’s Hospital for an appointment. Prior to that trip, my husband joined us, sitting in the car’s back seat next to our daughter. Being the only adult in the car for the first time made me nervous, though it’s difficult to explain what I thought might happen to her—suffocation? Choking? Something awful!

She reassured me with a little gurgling and the trip was fine, followed by a routine appointment. Over the years we have returned to see specialists for potential allergies and gastrointestinal problems and have made an emergency room visit for suspected H1-N1 virus during the 2009 outbreak. I’m hoping we never again need to revisit the emergency room, knock on wood.

Our family had great experiences at Children’s Hospital, and I really never paused to appreciate that. But today I took time to ponder how lucky we are to live close to it.

If we were to need the emergency room again, our daughter would be getting treatment at one of the top pediatric hospitals in the country. We could simply take the freeway and drive about 12 miles to get great care. It’s such a different scene for a family in one of Wisconsin’s rural counties, perhaps living up north where it requires a significant drive to reach Milwaukee. It’s also a different situation for families wracked with worry about funding the visit.

Sometimes I think that we take our freshwater lake for granted, and we might be doing the same for our hospital.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at jill@bayviewcompass.com.


Live summer performance at St. Francis Library

June 1, 2015

St. Francis Library is offering free live-performance entertainment this summer for children. All programs are held at St. Francis Public Library, 4230 S. Nicholson Ave., St. Francis. All performances begin at 1:30pm.

June 18—Steve Girman will combine juggling, magic, stories and songs in an engaging performance.

June 25—Kidsplay “Ready Readers.” The Adventure of S.P.L.A.S.H. is a Superhero Show with humor and good advice. Two bold superheroes find themselves without their amazing powers and get the audience to use their powers to read and save the day.

Info: 414-481-7323, stfrancislibrary.org.


Portion of beer garden profits will help maintain park

June 1, 2015

St. Francis Brewery will be permitted to operate a beer garden in Humboldt Park for five years under the terms of its contract with Milwaukee County Parks.

Under terms of the agreement, the brewery would pay the county a commission of 20 percent of gross sales on alcoholic beverages and 10 percent on league and tournament receipts. The brewery will also reimburse the county $700 per month for utilities. Based on the estimate of sales provided by the brewery, the estimated net increase in revenue to the county will be approximately $61,560 in 2015, according to District 14 County Supervisor Jason Haas.

The beer garden opened May 28, expanding its 2014 food menu. The beer menu has also been expanded to include offerings from local breweries, in addition to those produced by St. Francis Brewery.

The beer garden operates daily from noon to 10pm, with last call at 9pm.


Town Hall Meeting about proposed gun club move to Warnimont Park June 3

June 1, 2015

A town hall sponsored by District 8 Milwaukee County Supervisor Patricia Jursik to discuss a proposal to relocate the Cudahy Sportsman Club (AKA Cudahy Gun Club) to a site in Warnimont Park will be held Wednesday, June 3, from 6:30pm to 8:15pm in the Winter Garden meeting room of the Cudahy Family Library. Milwaukee County Parks director John Dargle will participate in the meeting.

The program will include public comment scheduled to begin at approximately 7:30pm. The library is located at 3500 Library Drive in Cudahy. For more information, contact County Supervisor Patricia Jursik: 414-278-4321 or patricia.jursik@milwaukeecountywi.gov.


Attention families, history buffs, and fire truck enthusiasts

June 1, 2015

The Milwaukee Fire Historical Society will host the 16th Metro Milwaukee Fire & Police Expo on Saturday, June, 27, from 8am to 3pm at Milwaukee Area Technical College’s South Campus at 6665 S. Howell Ave. in Oak Creek.

The event will feature displays of antique and modern fire trucks, a DARE car show (sponsored by MATC), a Flight for Life helicopter, Milwaukee Fire Department Special Teams displays, fire education and demonstrations for all ages, a vendor market, and food and beverages for purchase.

The event is a fundraiser to pay for the restoration of a 1949 Mack fire engine currently owned by the Milwaukee Fire Historical Society. The event is free and open to the public. More info: 414-817-1467.


Humboldt Park Listening Session Thursday, June 4

June 1, 2015

The second in a series of three listening sessions is scheduled for Thursday, June 4 at 6:30pm at the Humboldt Park Pavilion. A segment of the session will focus on reviewing and commenting on proposed plans for remodeling the pavilion’s bathrooms. Schultzwerk Architecture will be present to discuss the proposed plan.

Humboldt Park Friends, in conjunction with St. Francis Brewery and Milwaukee County Parks Department, hired Schultzwerk Architecture to create plans for remodeling the park pavilion bathrooms. After the meeting, the plans will be finalized and contract bids solicited for the project based on public comment about the proposed plans. A campaign to raise funds for the project will begin when project costs are determined.

There will be a catered light dinner. Listening session attendees are invited to bring a dessert or side dish. Dinner will be served at 6pm and the listening session will begin at 6:30pm.

Comments regarding the bathroom plans can also be emailed to info@humboldtparkmilwaukee.org.


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