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Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009

Issue of the Week: The MPS Bogeyman

Plus Hero and Jerk of the Week

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In the latest effort to push for a mayoral takeover of MPS, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel continues its selective reporting. The Milwaukee Public Schools’ $2 billion unfunded liability is old news, a problem raised in a study commissioned by the MPS Board in 2007 and the Doyle/Barrett-instigated McKinsey report this past spring. But that didn’t stop the Journal Sentinel from writing another screaming headline as if the information was new. This time, the liability problem has been rehashed in a study by the Bradley Foundation-funded, JS-friendly Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. And, on cue, the paper called for a mayoral takeover of MPS.

The Journal Sentinel’s reporting led MPS Board President Michael Bonds to fire off a letter to the paper for its distorted MPS coverage, writing, “As Milwaukee’s only daily newspaper, your one-sided view and failure to hold yourself accountable for failed policies you have promoted as reform—such as vouchers, the Neighborhood Schools Initiative, and small schools—do a grave disservice to the citizens of this great city.”

So, according to Bonds, what did the JS miss? First, that the current board inherited the $2 billion unfunded liability. And that in 2007 the board commissioned the Segal Report to get a handle on this issue; the consultants found that contracts dating back to the 1980s cannot be altered. And that the current board has already implemented health programs that have saved millions of dollars. And that the board has prepaid pension obligations. And that skyrocketing health care costs in southeastern Wisconsin, which are among the highest in the state, cripple other units of government and small and large businesses in the area. And that the situation is so dire that four local school districts, including Whitefish Bay Schools, attempted to pay for their benefits packages by investing in high-risk stock market investments. Those went bust when Wall Street collapsed.

Bonds concluded in his letter, which the JS hasn’t printed: “Put the facts on the table, and then the voters and their elected representatives can make an informed decision about whether the current school board is helping MPS students learn and is being responsible with the taxpayers’ dollars or whether moving to one-person rule is better.”

Hero of the Week

MillerCoors Brewing Co.

New Year’s Eve revelers who imbibe one too many drinks need not jeopardize their own safety or that of other citizens, thanks to the MillerCoors Brewing Co., which once again will offer free rides on the Milwaukee County Transit System and Waukesha Metro Transit beginning at 8 p.m. on Dec. 31. The program, which has provided nearly 2 million free rides in its 22-year history, is also offered on St. Patrick’s Day, another holiday that sees an unfortunate rise in impaired motorists. For its efforts to keep our roadways clear of drunken drivers, the Shepherd Express salutes MillerCoors as our Hero of the Week.  For complete information on routes and times, see www.millercoorsfreerides.com.

Jerk of the Week

Rep. F. Jim Sensenbrenner

It is one thing to vote against health care reform while owning health-care-industry stocks that benefit from your negative vote, but it is another thing to profit from your votes to go to war. An analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found that Wisconsin’s F. Jim Sensenbrenner was among the lawmakers who profited the most from corporations that had major defense contracts. Sensenbrenner has made literally millions of dollars from defense contractor stocks in the years since he voted for the war in Iraq.

It’s bad enough to vote for former President Bush’s “War of Choice” in Iraq, but it’s far worse to make money from investments in Halliburton, Chevron, BP, GE and United Technologies—companies that earn a tidy sum by contracting with the Department of Defense. If Sensenbrenner wanted to do the right thing, he’d divest himself of these stocks and tell his financial advisers not to purchase securities with companies that make a significant portion of their profits from government contracts, especially from war contracts. Shameful.

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