A compromise on MPS

As the clock ticks down on the Jan. 19 deadline to file for President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top education reform funding, a compromise is being floated through the halls of the State Capitol in Madison.

Late Wednesday, Mayor Tom Barrett announced some concessions he would accept regarding the governance of Milwaukee Public Schools, including retaining the right to pick the district superintendent, but allowing the Milwaukee School Board to have a 45-day window to gather a super-majority to overturn the selection.

Another compromise would give the mayor and superintendent the ability to develop the school budget, but allow the Board to accept or amend the budget and send it back. The mayor would be given line-item veto power over the budget, but the Board could override any vetoes with a three-quarters majority vote.

Finally, the mayor has agreed to move the election of  Board members from April to November, coinciding with state and federal elections.

These concessions bring the outline of mayoral control closer to the plan proposed by State Rep. Tamara Grigsby and Sen. Spencer Coggs; a plan that is favored by the teachers unions and some community groups in the inner city of Milwaukee. In that plan, the mayor would be involved in the selection of the superintendent and creation of the annual budget, but the School Board would retain the final say on district issues.

However, Grigsby said on Wednesday that Barrett’s compromise doesn’t answer the central question:  Who will the superintendent report to — the mayor or the Board?

Barrett and Gov. Jim Doyle have been major advocates of a plan forwarded by State Sen. Lena Taylor and Rep. Pedro Colón, which would give the mayor the authority to appoint the superintendent, appoint the School Board and set the school budget. As the plan moved through committees, the right of citizens to elect the School Board was returned, but the powers of the Board were limited to discipline and parental involvement issues.

Sen. Bob Jauch is the co-chair of the Senate Education Committee, and during last week’s public hearing in Milwaukee, he called for compromise.

“The mayor is showing real leadership here,” Jauch said in response to Barrett’s compromise. “It respects the desire to elect a School Board and contains an element of accountability to appoint a superintendent. This is the best of both worlds, maintaining the democratic system the citizens want.”

Jauch is disappointed by Grigsby and Cogg’s  opposition to Barrett’s proposal, saying it shows they’re not willing to give an inch. He added that the education committee is not scheduled to vote on any proposal to reform MPS before Jan. 19, since the Milwaukee legislative contingency can’t agree on a plan.

“This is an issue that needs to be resolved in Milwaukee. However, I think the majority of Milwaukee’s legislators and the public will recognize this alternative from the mayor shows good faith.”

He added that failing to reform MPS now will negatively affect the entire state’s ability to obtain federal Race to the Top funds.

“President Obama and (Education) Secretary Arne Duncan made it very clear that they will judge applications not on what we’re asking for, but on the commitment to make reforms. And right now, we are not showing that commitment.”

Barrett said he was announcing the compromise as a last-ditch effort to have school reform legislation passed before the current Milwaukee School Board hires a new superintendent.

The Board held an open meeting this morning where the three finalists for the position responded to the question from the public. The mayor and other members of the community interviewed the candidates in a special closed session, prior to the Board taking up formal discussion of the candidates on Thursday evening.

Barrett has said he thinks the School Board is moving too quickly to pick a new superintendent, simply to thwart mayoral control of the district. Jauch said if the Board hires a new superintendent before reform measures are passed it is a stick in the eye to the citizens in the Milwaukee School District.


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