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Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008

Issue of the Week: An Appointed School Board? Get Serious.

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The latest simplistic solution to the very, very serious problem of Milwaukee Public Schools' low performance results is to create an appointed school board. This "silver bullet" promoted by the right wing of the business community and supported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, of course, is supposed to greatly improve test results. When in doubt, their solution is to cut back on democracy because they, of course, know better than the parents who elect the school board members.

You would have to be living under a rock not to understand that MPS has some very serious issues with too many students coming from extremely poor backgrounds and teachers not getting the support that they need. The MPS board has been a contentious body, and currently one of its members embarrassed it by abusing her privileges as a public servant with a junket to Philadelphia. All that is true. But we need to look beyond these short-term issues and examine the district's underlying problems to understand why the board isn't functioning as well as it should.

In 1990, the national right-wing think tanks-which see privatization as the solution to every problem, including education-found a wonderful laboratory in Milwaukee. There was a Democratic mayor and a Republican governor who were at one on this issue. They were supported by the conservative faction of the business community and their cause received large grants of money from the right-wing Bradley Foundation. With the stars in such perfect alignment, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program-better known as the voucher program-was born. The motivation for this privatization had little to do with what was good for MPS students. It was fueled by an opportunity to use MPS students as guinea pigs in a privatization experiment and to punish the teachers' union.

After the voucher system was born, the major conflicts and divisions on the MPS board revolved around that issue: the privatization of about 20% of the MPS system. When the Republicans gained control of the state Legislature in 1995, they added religious schools to the mix and forced taxpayers to fund private religious training, which many believed violated our constitutional separation of church and state. Since that time, the MPS board has been divided between the supporters of public education-led by people like board President Peter Blewett-and the privatization supporters, usually funded by out-of-state conservative ideologues like the Walton family in Arkansas. The board has been flipping back and forth with 5-4 majorities. Until the privatization issue can be equitably resolved, these simplistic solutions-like an appointed board-will only distract people.

If we appoint a school board, who will do the appointing, and what role will be played by the right-wing suburban business types who run the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and their friends at the Bradley Foundation? When they can't win at the ballot box, this crowd will either denounce the idea of democratically elected positions or run to the courts and get the issue to the state Supreme Court, where they just bought the last two justices, Annette Ziegler and Michael Gableman. What our community desperately needs is some forward-looking leadership instead of distractions.


Heroes of the Week: Local Businesses and Shoppers

Thank you for a successful Buy Local holiday shopping campaign. Hundreds and hundreds of you promised to spend at least $100 at locally owned businesses this holiday season, and 19 generous local businesses donated 85 prizes to help you do it. But please remember to shop locally throughout the year. It's a thoughtful way to give back to the shops, restaurants, bars and other businesses that make Milwaukee a unique, vibrant city.


Jerk of the Week: MMAC's Steve Baas

It's perfectly OK to disagree with Milwaukee's new sick days ordinance, which was approved by 157,117 voters on Nov. 4. But to call the will of 69% of the city's voters "a sort of terrorism"? That's outrageous and disrespectful. Nevertheless, that's the opinion of Steve Baas, director of governmental affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), who has been sliming the city's workers and trying to promote the interests of businesses that don't want to treat their workers decently. Baas, a former employee of the ultraconservative Rep. John Gard and who played a role in former Rep. Scott Jensen's Republican caucus scandal, should immediately apologize to the city's workers. How will Milwaukee ever attract and retain a top-notch workforce if the mouthpiece for the city's business association thinks the overwhelming majority of voters approve of "terrorism"?


Blog of the Week: Ed Garvey, for GarveyBlog

www.fightingbob.com

Bailout Or Setup?

W. says it would be terrible to burden Obama with the auto industry in bankruptcy. Why? I guess he likes him. No, that doesn't ring true. Perhaps to set conditions that are so tough they can't be met so Obama will have the failure on his plate? That's the W. we know.

Viability by March 31? Are you kidding? If that doesn't doom Detroit I'll be surprised, because if they're not in the black two months after inauguration, [it'll be] Chapter 11 and goodbye UAW [United Auto Workers]!

If they survive, wages and benefits must be competitive by the end of 2009. That is code for breaking the contracts with UAW-wages and benefits at non-union levels. Why join a union under that scenario?

Look out, Barack. He is not trying to help you.


Quote of the Week

"We say children are a priority, but when did people ever press against the door for Parents' Night at school? We say education is a priority, but when did people ever bang against the windows of the library? We say faith is a priority, but when did people ever surge into a temple of worship as eagerly as they do a temple of commerce?" -Miami Heraldcolumnist Leonard Pitts Jr., focusing on American values reflected in the Nov. 28 trampling death of Wal-Mart employee Jdimytai Damour

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