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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Will the New MPS Advisory Council Have an Impact?

Mayor Barrett defends its role

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Now that the mayor, governor and outgoing and incoming state superintendents of public instruction have announced the members of the Milwaukee Public Schools Innovation and Improvement Advisory Council, is it likely that the council will make a difference in the future of MPS?

According to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who is chair of the council, the new advisory group has no benchmarks for success and no end date in sight, although he said: “I am not someone who likes permanent councils or committees.”

The council, created by Barrett, Gov. Jim Doyle, state Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster and Superintendent-elect Tony Evers, is independent of MPS and will be funded by the state. Barrett said he didn’t know how much it would cost taxpayers. An appointed project director would be responsible for staffing the council and its day-to-day operations. Barrett said subcommittee members would be appointed to address the council’s main concerns.

Is this the first step toward a mayoral takeover of the MPS board? “No,” Barrett said.

The council’s first meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 3.

 

Charter Schools Are Well Represented

In many ways, the council will be duplicating efforts that already have been established. The seven-member council will “coordinate and monitor the implementation of an MPS Innovation and Improvement Plan,” improve the district’s financial management, compete for federal stimulus funds and “work in collaboration with a broad base of community stakeholders.”

The new council appears to be placing an emphasis on its “innovation and improvement plan,” though MPS doesn’t appear to lack committee-created strategic plans.

MPS has been identified as a District Identified for Improvement (DIFI) because it missed some performance standards created by the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind legislation. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has been working with MPS to implement its DIFI corrective action plan. Barrett said that the council would be working with DPI and the district on that plan.

The district had also developed the “Working Together, Achieving More” five-year strategic plan in 2007, the result of a collaboration by the MPS board and administration, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the African American Education Council and the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

While MPS is seeking federal stimulus funds, Barrett said that the council would work with the governor’s staff to compete for Race to the Top Funds, which is a discretionary pool of money that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will distribute to 10 to 15 states that show that they’re working on innovative education reforms. Duncan will be in Milwaukee on Thursday. “I believe that this [council] is that type of innovation that the secretary is looking for,” Barrett said.

While Barrett is chairing the council, members include MPS Board President Michael Bonds; Ricardo Diaz, executive director for the United Community Center, which runs the Bruce-Guadalupe Community School, a charter school; Willie Jude Jr., a 32-year veteran of MPS; Brenda Martinez, the lead teacher at Academia de Lenguaje y Bellas Artes, a charter school; Joan Prince, a vice chancellor at UW-Milwaukee; and investor Paul Sweeney, a member of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) Education Committee, which is a longtime supporter of the voucher school program.

“I think there’s a place for charter schools in this debate,” Barrett said of the members’ backgrounds in charter schools.

Council member Sweeney, a founding partner of PS Capital Partners, contributed $150 to ReDonna Rodgers, the MPS board candidate recruited and supported by Advocates for Student Achievement (ASA), a “reform group” that is being investigated by the district attorney’s office.

A “Paul Sweeney” is listed on the ASA Web site as a member of its Board of Advisors. But Sweeney, in an e-mail to the Shepherd, wrote that “I believe that I have attended one of their events in the past but do not believe that I am on the board of advisors.”

Barrett said that he wasn’t aware of any connection between Sweeney and ASA. “I’m not familiar with that group,” Barrett said.

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