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Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009

Issue of the Week: Where’s the MPS Plan?

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

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Gov. Jim Doyle and state Superintendent Tony Evers announced their plan to reform the state’s education system—and possibly net some funds from the federal government. They trotted out some ideas for the press, including lengthening the school day, linking teacher pay to performance, changing the state-administered test and allowing schools to spend more than the state-imposed revenue cap. But, not surprisingly, the hot-button issue was Doyle and Evers’ support for a mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Doyle and Evers endorsed a plan for the Milwaukee mayor to appoint the MPS superintendent, while Mayor Tom Barrett has indicated he wants to appoint both the superintendent and board members.

Let’s fact-check some of their claims, starting with the assertion that a mayoral takeover is critical to Wisconsin’s chances of receiving “Race to the Top” funding. The numbers for “Race to the Top” vary wildly, as documented by MPS board member Larry Miller. The governor’s latest press release claims it’s $5 billion, others claim it’s $4.3 billion. But that’s the national total. Wisconsin could net $80 million, down from earlier claims of up to $300 million, Miller noted. Again, that’s a state total. Miller estimates MPS could receive $20 million to $30 million—“less than 2% of the MPS budget.”

What’s more, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan confirmed in a letter to Congresswoman Gwen Moore that a mayoral takeover is not necessary for more funds. Duncan wrote on Oct. 7: “Although we have not yet released the final priorities and criteria for Race to the Top, mayoral control of the public schools was not a criterion included in the proposed priorities that we released for public comment in July.” He added that linking teacher performance to pay is a more important factor for the funds.

Lastly, Doyle, Evers and Barrett have made lots of noise about how mayoral control will increase student achievement, close the racial gap and enhance accountability. But there’s no solid evidence that’s true, nor have they offered a plan that will implement those laudable goals. Nor do their other proposals require a change in MPS governance. The governor, mayor and state superintendent should use their vast resources to support MPS instead of fooling the public in an attempt to take over the schools.

 

Hero of the Week

Milwaukee County Parks Director Sue Black and the Milwaukee County Parks Department

Talk about doing a lot with a little. The Milwaukee County Parks Department and Parks Director Sue Black won top honors from the National Recreation and Park Association for their innovative stewardship of the county’s beloved Charles B. Whitnall-designed park system. They’ve encouraged Milwaukeeans and visitors to enjoy the parks, pools, golf courses and beaches even though Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s budget cuts have hit the system hard and capital improvements are desperately needed. Kudos to Black and the staff for preserving Milwaukee’s historic commitment to public parks.

 

Jerk of the Week

State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman

Apparently we should have very low expectations for a jurist who insists on the right to lie in campaign ads. State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman’s deliberately sleazy campaign tactics are having a lasting negative impact on the state’s highest court. According to one criminal defense attorney, Gableman’s campaign statements prove that he is unable to be impartial on criminal cases and should recuse himself. But Gableman hasn’t, and that’s thrown a monkey wrench into the court’s proceedings and caused his fellow justices to issue dueling statements about the unresolved, six-month-old matter. Gableman should step aside for the good of the court.