Sunday, November 3, 2013
Crucial Milwaukee Vote on Public School Plan
On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Milwaukee Common Council is expected to vote on the Milwaukee School Board’s proposal to sell the Malcolm X school property to a community-based developer so that the broader community can be served and so that a new, high-quality public middle school can be established.
The back story is complicated, but boils down to a conflict between pro-public education forces led by the democratically elected school board versus corporate-driven, pro-market education forces led by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).
It appears that the majority of the Common Council members will support the MPS proposal, but nothing is certain. Public school supporters should contact their alderperson on Monday to insist they support the public schools.
The MMAC has a long history of supporting voucher schools and privately-run charter schools. Their financial and political support has spanned decades, and included multiple fights at state and local levels. The MMAC initiatives have garnered support from conservative forces like the Koch brothers, the Bradley Foundation and Walton Foundation.
Most recently the MMAC has promoted a “recovery” or “achievement” zone in Milwaukee, patterned after similar corporate-backed school privatization schemes in New Orleans and Memphis.
When St. Marcus School, a publicly-financed voucher school, attempted to pressure the Milwaukee School Board to sell it the Malcolm X school site, the school board refused. The MMAC stepped in and had their staff draft legislation that Senator Alberta Darling introduced into the state legislature. That legislation, SB 318 would force MPS to sell “surplus” property to private school operators.
Because all school property is technically owned by the city of Milwaukee, property transactions of the school board have to get final approval by the city government. The MMAC and the privatization advocates have been working to convince alderpeople to turn down the school board plan.
Some council members have raised concerns about St. Marcus after they realized that the church is part of the conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The church and synod have a pro-creationist, anti-Catholic, homophobic theology. It does not allow women to vote for the Church Council, which in turn appoints the School Council, the head of which has to be a male.
MPS on the other hand requires school councils to be elected by parents (male AND female). The Milwaukee School Board’s intention is to have the Malcolm X site be a multi-use venue with low-income housing, a cultural and artists center and a public middle school.
The City Council has had a weak record when it comes to protecting public schools. Milwaukee was the first city in the nation to get authority to charter their own privately-run charter schools. The city has done so with little public oversight or accountability. There is little understanding of the negative impact such schools have had on MPS. A recent report showed that the Milwaukee Public Schools have three times as many English Language Learners and twice as many special education students as the privately-run charter schools chartered by the City of Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Two years ago, the MMAC and the pro-privatization group, Schools that Can-Milwaukee, pressured the Common Council and Mayor to approve an “umbrella charter” allowing for eight Rocketship schools in the city. The first Rocketship School opened this past August on the near south side. Opposition by community groups were partially responsible for Rocketship not reaching its goals.
Tim Sheehy, President of the MMAC is also President of the Rocketship Milwaukee Board of Directors. The MMAC, Rocketship, Wisconsin School Choice, and St. Marcus School all testified in Madison in favor of Senator Darling’s “land grab” bill.
Community opposition to the bill and to the attempt by St. Marcus to take over the Malcolm X site has been strong. Last month the Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover held a massive press conference in front of North Division High School. News reports and video demonstrate the depth of opposition. A large "Public Education is a Civil Right" march in September targetted MMAC's takeover plan.
The Milwaukee Common Council has an opportunity this Tuesday to show the people of Milwaukee that they support the Milwaukee Public Schools. They can do so by voting to support the plan proposed by the democratically elected school board.