Fresh ideas for improving our schools

November 24, 2009

By Jon Richards, 19th District State Representative

In October, I stood with Governor Doyle, Mayor Barrett, and many other elected leaders and community members to support a compromise that would change the governance structure of the Milwaukee Public Schools. This is an important first step in what I hope is a frank and open discussion about the future of our public schools here in Milwaukee.

The challenges that face Milwaukee schools are no secret. Test scores lag behind national and state averages. The racial achievement gap between black students and white students is one of the largest in the entire United States. High school graduation rates are dismal. Drastic changes are needed to ensure that our kids have the tools they need to compete with those in other communities around Wisconsin, our nation, and the entire world. 

I support providing clear lines of accountability for the success or failure of the system with a superintendent appointed by the mayor with expanded powers. One of the first steps to turning MPS around is to carve out a clear path of accountability so that responsibility for the system can be owned up to. If the mayor is responsible for the hiring and firing of the superintendent, the buck stops there.

Next, the proposal maintains an elected school board. From the very beginning of this discussion, this was one of my primary goals. This compromise ensures that kids, parents, and concerned citizens will have a place to go to voice their opinions and get assistance with problems they encounter. While the role of the elected board is transformed to be less involved in day-to-day decision making, they will maintain an important advisory role that will allow them to help shape the policies of the school district.

Even those who do not agree with the proposal on governance concur that we need change in MPS and have proposed reforms, most of which should be adopted. The time for change is now. I will not stand on the sidelines and allow this unprecedented opportunity to improve the quality of education within MPS pass us by. I encourage you to do the same. I call on all interested parties to come to the table with ideas about how to improve our schools. Let’s come together to make a meaningful commitment to the education of our young people.

Jon Richards is the state representative for Wisconsin’s 19th state Assembly District, which includes Bay View, the Third Ward, eastern downtown, and the East Side. His website is He can be reached at (888) 534-0019 or

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