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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Could MPS End Busing?

Director Bonds says it makes sense

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Milwaukee Public Schools’ longtime busing program could be drastically reduced if MPS Director Michael Bonds has his way. Bonds, who has sponsored a resolution to phase out most busing services within four years, says the $58 million spent on transportation each year could be better utilized by reopening closed schools and restoring cut programs.

“The goal is to open quality schools in the city instead of constantly busing kids,” Bonds said. He said the once-admirable goal of desegregation isn’t attainable in 2008, since the overwhelming majority of MPS students are minority students. So classrooms are still segregated and kids aren’t getting a better education.

“It’s not serving any integration purpose because 88% of the students in the district are minorities,” Bonds said. “It’s not doing anything for academic performance. We’ve got some of the lowest reading and math scores in the nation.”

Bonds said the busing program will cost roughly $80 million annually in the coming years, a price tag the district cannot afford. “I don’t believe that taxpayers should give MPS another penny as long as they have this failed tax policy,” Bonds said. “We are asking the taxpayers to give more and we haven’t cleaned up our own house.”

Bonds has a long history with MPS’s busing program, which began with a court order in 1976. Bonds was a plaintiff in an integration suit and worked with the late Lloyd Barbee in 1981 to monitor the desegregation order. But he said the implementation of the busing program went awry. Bonds said that the emergence of educational experiments such as the choice program and charter schools helped to cause oncefunctioning schools in stable North Side neighborhoods to close.

“It went wrong when people found dollars in education,” Bonds said. “I truly believe that there was some sort of agreement, either verbally or written, to partition the North Side where the voucher schools and choice schools could come in.”

Under his plan, some busing would still remain for students who attend citywide schools; are disabled; must travel more than 2 miles to get to a neighborhood school; or are chronic disrupters. Bonds’ resolution will be debated at an April 22 Finance and Personnel Committee meeting.

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race cannot be considered when assigning students to schools, so Bonds said his plan to reduce busing would be legal. Bonds said that the extensive busing program adversely affects students and their parents. The long bus ride extends a student’s day, hinders parents from becoming involved in their child’s school and leads to a lack of unity in the student’s neighborhood, since kids who grow up together can be scattered to schools throughout the city, he said.

“It’s disrupting neighborhoods,” Bonds said. “In Bay View, parents don’t want their kids to go to the school because of the demographics. It’s crazy— because parents on the North Side are complaining that they’ve got to send their kids to schools [across town] and they don’t want to go there, either.”

But Terry Falk, who represents the Bay View area on the MPS board, said that not all North Side school closings could be blamed on busing. Instead, he said that demographics are driving the school closings, saying that there are now more kids in MPS schools on the South Side than on the North Side or in the central city.

“The idea that busing is causing the problem is a passing situation,” Falk said. He added that while he wasn’t sure if he would support the final version of Bonds’ resolution, since it may be modified in committee, he would consider looking at reducing busing as a way to save the district money.

“If we need to cut down on busing, we need a plan,” Falk said. “A resolution is not going to do it.” Bonds, state Rep. Annette (Polly) Williams and the African American Education Council will hold a town hall meeting to discuss MPS busing on Tuesday, April 15, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Parklawn Assembly of God Church, 3725 N. Sherman Blvd.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com.

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