Hall Monitor — The MPS Budget and the Resource Gap walked into a bar

June 1, 2017

By Jay Bullock

(something about taking square aim at WisGOP)

I’m not telling you something you don’t already know — the Milwaukee Public Schools budget is awful.

No one involved is happy about it. Superintendent Darienne Driver’s budget proposal and commentary lash out at state legislators forcing her to eviscerate programs. The district’s construction budget, for example, will be cut by a whopping 92 percent!

Board members are raising their voices at board meetings. Teachers are packing hearings demanding raises promised long ago. School principals are making gut-wrenching decisions about which staff can stay and which must go.

Most frustrating of all, students are looking at another year in a school system in a city that cannot hope to begin to bridge the gap between what’s available to them compared to what’s available to children living, in some cases, just blocks away in the suburbs.

This is my most common refrain. I feel like I should just get it printed on a sandwich board, “end-is-nigh-style”, and stand on a street corner screaming it. That might be as effective as all my previous warnings.

I have warned: Let’s talk about the much-storied 53206 zip code. The average annual household income is $32,000 — not a lot of money for raising a child.

Up in River Hills, 53217, home of State Senator Alberta Darling, a long-time opponent of MPS, the average household income is $282,000.

The difference between the two — a cool quarter mil, by my math — is what I call the Resource Gap. Imagine the experiences all that money buys: camps, music lessons, tutors, high-quality preschool, family vacations to foreign countries, rooms upon rooms upon rooms of books  to read. Multiply that by 18, the years between birth and graduation…

I am not saying schools have to be the place where the Resource Gap is redressed. I’m just saying, in this column at the end of this school term, just as I said in my September column,  schools are the place where we expect the gap to be made up. Year after year we are told that there’s no reason why children in Milwaukee can’t succeed at the same rates as their suburban peers.

I don’t know how I can make that more plain.

The state budget is not finished. For all I know, Republican Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans on the state’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, including Sen. Darling, will see the light and change the provisions that hit MPS so hard.

For example, the revenue cap, the grand total amount a district can collect from state aid and  local property taxes, remains flat. That means even though there may be some increases in state funding for MPS, those must be offset by reducing property taxes.

It is, for want of a better word, diabolical. It serves the short-term interest of property taxpayers at the long-term expense of our children. Yay for the local homeowner and his extra hundred dollars at the end of the year; boo for the 96 teachers and 98 educational assistants not in MPS classrooms come fall.

Superintendent Darienne Driver’s budget comments pull no punches. “Revenue is not keeping pace with inflation,” she wrote in her budget brief. “Stable revenues are not enough to sustain the district’s operations. (They) will not allow the district to continue prior year operations at even a modest increase to keep up with costs.”

Thus, cuts. Thus, broken promises on raises. Thus, an end to almost all capital improvements around the district.

Thus, another giant wedge driving the Resource Gap wider.

And Dr. Driver knows it. Her budget brief says, “Meeting the MPS vision is challenging within an environment of stagnant revenues, growing educational options, increased need for quality programming aimed at serving Milwaukee’s diverse student population, and regaining public confidence that the school district can provide students with a quality education.”

This is, on its face, an inarguable fact. Milwaukee’s kids deserve the same high-quality programs Alberta Darling’s neighbors have in their schools. MPS must regain the trust of Milwaukee families if it wants to increase enrollment. MPS is facing more competition from more directions than ever before.

All of that factors into the Resource Gap, or, as Driver calls it, “the need for quality programming aimed at serving Milwaukee’s diverse [poor and minority] student population.”

But it’s also a broadside aimed directly at Walker and Darling and the rest. The time for pinning failure on us is long past, Driver is saying. We can’t keep doing more with less. We will not go down without pointing out, to everyone who will listen, whose responsibility this really is, whose decisions are really the ones leaving Milwaukee’s children with less and less and less every year.

To be fair, the budget woes of MPS are hardly unique. District officials, school board members, and parent groups from every corner of Wisconsin have inundated budget hearings to voice complaints. Over the last three years, nearly 200 school district referenda have been on ballots around the state, most of them passing.

MPS has not gone to referendum, knowing the whole problem here is that Milwaukee families lack the resources in the first place.

As this goes to press, the Legislature has a few weeks left to finalize the state budget and how it affects MPS. If you, like me, believe the Resource Gap is real and that we have a moral and civic obligation to do something about it, here’s the phone number, 1-800-362-9472.

Jay Bullock teaches English at Bay View High School and wants to hear about your calls to Madison: mpshallmonitor@gmail.com

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Comments

One Comment on "Hall Monitor — The MPS Budget and the Resource Gap walked into a bar"

  1. What We Are Reading: 06/06/2017 | Blogging Blue on Tue, 6th Jun 2017 6:21 am 

    […] The MPS Budget and the Resource Gap walked into a bar : I’m not telling you something you don’t already know — the Milwaukee Public Schools budget is awful. No one involved is happy about it. Superintendent Darienne Driver’s budget proposal and commentary lash out at state legislators forcing her to eviscerate programs. The district’s construction budget, for example, will be cut by a whopping 92 percent! […]

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