Thursday, April 9, 2009

Insert a Screaming Headline about MPS Here

By Lisa Kaiser
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Full disclosure: I haven’t read the entire 103-page study on MPS’s finances, which purports to claim that MPS wastes up to $100 million in taxpayer money per year. But I’m working my way through the beastly document, thinking about JS’s typically overheated reaction to anything related to MPS, and discussing it with people who know MPS’s finances far better than I do.

Here’s what’s jumping out at me right now:

  • Jennifer Morales, who will be departing the MPS board shortly, said that the board was “blindsided” and didn’t see it until it was released to the public. Morales also argued that Gov. Doyle and Mayor Barrett have had the finished report for a while but sat on it until just before MPS went on its spring recess. JS reporter Alan Borsuk interviewed no board members for his article this morning, although he did get reactions from Tom Morgan of the MTEA and the superintendent. The report is clearly aimed at criticizing the board’s performance, not the superintendent’s, so the mayor and governor can have more influence over MPS.
Morales hopes that the public will come to the meeting of the MPS Board’s Strategic Planning and Budget Committee at 7:30 p.m. tonight, at 5225 W. Vliet St., to protest the privatization of MPS and mayoral takeover of the publicly elected MPS board.
The greatest amount of the projected savings ($43 million) suggested in the report would come from a recommended “redesign” of employee benefits. The consultants say the district could significantly modify retiree benefits, urge current employees to choose the lowest cost benefit package, and shift 1,550 non-instructional workers to a 34-hour week, making them eligible for the state-run BadgerCare coverage.
We’re going to save MPS by shifting people onto BadgerCare?
  • The report is utterly political. While Doyle and Barrett can claim to say that they’re looking out for taxpayers, what they’re trying to do is control the board—right before MPS receives stimulus funds. Doyle and Barrett have stated that they’ll establish an MPS Innovation and Improvement Advisory Council, “comprised of respected local leaders.” Is this the first step toward a takeover? Sounds like it. Who’ll have more power, the democratically elected board or the pals of the governor and the mayor? Who decides? The mayor and governor, or the voters?
  • Where have the governor and mayor been all this time? Doyle allowed the school voucher cap to be increased in 2005, even though the voucher program penalizes Milwaukee taxpayers as well as MPS’s finances. Barrett tried to fix the funding flaw that affects city taxpayers, but I don’t remember him being on the front lines of calling for more state support for MPS.
  • Lastly—for now—I’ve got to comment on the consultants that created this report, McKinsey and Co. These consultants evaluated the Minneapolis school district and recommended—surprise!—that the district should create charters and self-governed schools (vouchers?) to replace poor performing schools, and cut costs by cutting health insurance benefits. Sound familiar?

I’m going to continue reading the report and talking to folks who know more about this than I do. Input is welcome.

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