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Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009

State Superintendent Candidates’ Visions for MPS

State Superintendent Candidates’ Visions for MPS Primary election is Tuesday, Feb. 17

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Although turnout is traditionally low for primary races for nonpartisan offices, there are very good reasons why Milwaukee voters should care about the primary election for state Superintendent of Public Instruction on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

The five candidates vying to head the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) are developing plans to improve the performance of the Milwaukee Public Schools.While candidate Todd Price did not respond to requests for comment, here are the visions for MPS of four candidates for state superintendent, in alphabetical order:

Evers: View MPS in a Regional Context

Tony Evers, currently serving as the deputy state superintendent of public instruction, said that he would continue DPI’s work with MPS on their corrective action plan that is mandated by No Child Left Behind. “There are several ways we can hold them accountable to ensure that they have consistency of instruction across their grades and their schools,” Evers said of MPS. “One of the most difficult parts of being a child in any system is mobility. If there isn’t some kind of consistency across the grade levels, then they’re starting over two or three times a year and they can’t succeed.”

Evers said MPS’s role must be viewed as a regional issue. “There are hundreds and hundreds of educational institutions and social welfare agencies and public schools and charter schools and we need to look at it as a collaborative effort and not as a competitive model,” Evers said.

An appointed board would be the “last option,” Evers argued. “Someone would have to convince me that taking people’s vote away is somehow going to translate into kids learning better,” Evers said.

He argued for more transparency so that parents can make the best decision for their children. “There are efforts to begin this, so I would put my [influence] behind the idea of having a transparent school report card for every school in the Milwaukee area, whether it’s public, private, choice or charter school,” Evers said.

For more information about Tony Evers, go to www.tonyevers.com.

Fernandez: Replace the Elected Board with Appointees

Mukwonago-based Rose Fernandez, former president of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families, has proposed replacing the elected board with an expert panel.

“The panel would be appointed by the mayor of the city, the Milwaukee County executive and the superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction,” she said. “The panel would be empowered to hire and fire the MPS superintendent, to renegotiate work rules and benefits and pensions of the teachers, and to look at safety in all of the district’s buildings. The panel would also put in place more stringent academic standards and look at our curriculum across grade levels and look for ways to improve the quality and raise the expectations we have in the district. We also need to look at renegotiating pension benefits of all new employees of the district.”

Fernandez didn’t say whether the appointed board—like the appointed boards of the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District (MMSD)—could raise the tax levy. “I don’t believe that [raising taxes] will be a big part of the answer for this board, but [its power] will be defined by the Legislature,” she said.

For more information about Rose Fernandez, go to www.changedpi.com.

Holtz: MPS’s Future Deserves a Broad Discussion

Lowell Holtz, superintendent of the Beloit School District, said he would draw on his efforts to turn around the schools of Beloit when tackling the problems in Milwaukee. He said the inequalities in the MPS system spurred him to run for state superintendent.

“In the city of Milwaukee we have some of the very best schools, and then three or four blocks away you have some of the very worst schools,” Holtz said. “That’s an inequality that’s not acceptable.”

Holtz said no dramatic changes should be made to MPS until the main stakeholders have discussed all options. “I don’t think it’s right to go in and say, ‘I’ve got the plan for fixing the Milwaukee Public Schools and here it is. I’m going to abolish the board or set up different school districts,’” Holtz said. “Those are options to consider, but selecting an option without discussing them with the educational leaders and business leaders and the board is ridiculous. That’s why this position must be nonpartisan. You can’t come in with predetermined notions and expect to collaborate with people to come up with a solution.”

For more information about Lowell Holtz, go to holtz4kids.com.

Mobley: Smaller Districts Would Perform Better

Village of Thiensville trustee and Concordia University associate professor Van Mobley calls himself a “pragmatic conservative” who wants public education throughout the state to be less reliant on the property tax.

Mobley said he believes that breaking up MPS into smaller districts is the best option. “I believe in local control and autonomy and elected boards,” Mobley said. “MPS is the largest district in the state and it’s the most troubled district in the state. I think there’s a connection.”

He cautioned against appointing a board without a clear line of accountability. “One of the things that I would guard against is breaking it up into a commission that wasn’t ultimately responsible to one person, at least in an interim time,” he said.

But the final decision about MPS’s future must be made by the community, Mobley said. “It could be that the people think a mayoral board is better. That’s not my preference. But they may say that the reforms could be done within the MPS system. I think that the problem with that is that we have gridlock in the current system,” he said.

For more information about Van Mobley, go to vanmobley.com/v2.

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