A typical Monday night. A gym full of parents and citizens ready to discuss possible cuts to the Milwaukee Public School budget and how it will effect their school. MPS School Board President Michael Bonds in attendance to answer their questions.
But instead of answers, Bonds brought bad news for not only the parents and students at La Escuela Fratney Elementary School, he brought bad news for schools across the state.
“I have no good news for you,” Bonds said. “We were just told that Gov. Walker will propose a $1 billion cut to K12 education funding across the state.”
Bonds said this cut in aid will reduce the revenue available to the district by almost $200 million dollars, or a reduction of $500 per pupil. Other school districts would suffer similar loses in state funding.
But that was not the worst of it. Bonds added that Walker is also proposing an end to Federal Title 1 funds, money that is allocated to help low-achieving students in poverty-ridden districts. For the 2011 fiscal year, MPS budgeted $33.5 million in Title 1 funds towards programming within its schools.
According to the Department of Education website, Title 1 funds are allocated to more than 50,000 public schools across the country to provide additional academic support and learning opportunities to help low-achieving children master challenging curricula and meet state standards in core academic subjects. For example, Title 1 dollars can be used for extra instruction in reading and mathematics, as well as special preschool, after-school, and summer programs to extend and reinforce the regular school curriculum.
In all, Bonds said the district could lose 1/4 of its revenue if Walker’s plan is enacted. Walker is expected to make these announcements next Tuesday (Feb. 22) during his biennial budget address.
The West Allis-West Milwaukee School District is facing a similar $500 per pupil cut to its state educational funding, according to School Board President Sue Stalewski. She added this could leave her district with a $7 million deficit in the next year.
“K-12 schools are 50-plus percent of the state budget,” she said. “How else will he balance the budget and not raise taxes without cutting public education? There are a lot of things on the table in this state.”
Bonds’ message was not what the 150 parents and teachers expected when the meeting began. They were there to learn how to reverse the proposed loss of the SAGE program (which allows for small class sizes in K5-3rd grade), six classroom teachers, two teacher’s aides, their librarian, an art teacher and the lead math teacher from La Escuala Fratney. Those cuts were proposed based on the upcoming 2012 MPS budget prepared by Superintendent Gregory Thornton, prior to hearing about Walker’s budget plans.
“I’m going to be honest with you. There will be major cuts, school closures and mergers, not just in MPS, but all across the state,” Bonds said.
He said the district is working on contingency plans, such as voiding individual school debts so those monies can be moved into instructional spending, but he was not hopeful.
“Given the fact that he (Walker) rejected $831 million in transportation aid, in this era anything is possible. These cuts will take education back sixty or seventy years, at least. This train is moving really fast and the only people who can stop this now is the legislators. You have to call your legislators to stop this.”
Besides shock, the parents and teachers at the meeting were angered that their losses would probably be permanent and more would come. Calls to march on Madison were loud and repeated.
Lorena Terando, a Fratney/Escaula teacher and parent asked if MPS teachers would be excused from classes to join the protests in Madison. “We need to take action now,” she said.
“This is our civil rights movement,” teacher Tonieh Welland said, following an impassioned plea in Spanish. “I don’t agree the train has left. We can act. We can do more; we can write, we can call. We need to come out in force. We need 100,000 of us to stand up and talk about our right to sound and stable education.”
Another parent/teacher said if 2,000 teachers called in sick the district would have to close, allowing them to join the protests at the Capitol. However, Dr. Thornton has released a letter directed towards MPS staff congratulating them on their professionalism and promising disciplinary action if teachers and staff failed to report for work on Thursday or Friday.
Others were angry with Bond’s demeanor and attitude of hopelessness. They challenged him to do more, to fight for the students of MPS.
“You need to stop being a funeral director and start advocating for our district,” Angela McManaman demanded. “You need to tell the state that these types of cuts will hurt our kids the most. We need an advocate.”
But he seemed beaten and tired, even when contacted by phone following the meeting. He said board members and the superintendent have been meeting all day to work on contigency plans for MPS.
“I want to fight,” he said, “but I won’t play to your emotions and just tell you what you want to hear. At the end of the day, if the governor’s budget goes through is will be an unprecedented disaster. This may be the death of MPS.”
It may also be the death of education as we know it in Wisconsin.
This story also appears on ThirdCoastDigest.com