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Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013

Alberta Darling Wants to Rig the Real Estate Market

Would force the city to sell MPS buildings to competitors

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A Milwaukee Common Council committee voted Monday to oppose a bill authored by state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) that would create a noncompetitive market for surplus Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) properties.

Darling’s bill was introduced last week and is on the fast track.

A state Senate committee will hear testimony on it Wednesday.

The bill, which only targets Milwaukee, creates a new way for the city to sell MPS buildings that are “unused” to an “education operator,” which is defined as a charter school operator, a private school operator, and an individual or group that wants to set up a charter school. After being on the surplus list for four years without an offer from a voucher, charter or private school operator, the city could sell the property to any other buyer.

Jennifer Gonda, the city’s director of intergovernmental relations, urged the committee to oppose the bill, saying she, Mayor Tom Barrett and Council President Willie Hines had met with Darling and suggested changes, which haven’t been included in the current draft of the bill. If the bill is enacted as written, Gonda warned, it would drive down the price of taxpayer-owned properties the city can sell.

Gonda said Darling’s bill sets up an unfair market for MPS’s buildings, since education operators would be given an unfair advantage over other potential buyers for four years. For example, she said, the Jackie Robinson Middle School has been redeveloped as the Sherman Park Senior Living Community. But that kind of creative development of a vacant MPS school would be on hold for four years while charter, voucher and private school operators got first dibs on the property, she said.

Gonda testified that the Milwaukee contingent had met with Darling and suggested devising a fair, competitive request for proposal (RFP) process consistent with the city’s regular RFP process.

“She was unwilling to do that,” Gonda said.

Gonda said she could find no precedent in state law in which state lawmakers dictate the terms of city-owned land sales while the city cannot, calling it “a very concerning issue.”

The bill’s terms are so lax that charter school operators don’t even have to prove that their school has been chartered by another agency, such as MPS or the city itself, Gonda said.

Unhappy with the terms of the sales and Darling’s lack of concern for the city’s local control over its properties, the committee voted to oppose the bill in the state Legislature.

Darling’s office did not respond to the Shepherd’s request to comment for this article.

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