Don’t Take Away Our School Buildings

Republican bill would force MPS to sell buildings used to expand successful schools like Golda Meir.

By - Oct 14th, 2013 10:21 am
Golda Meir Upper Campus. Photo by Angela McManaman.

Golda Meir Upper Campus. Photo by Angela McManaman.

According to the new school report cards the state issued last month, my son’s elementary/middle school “exceeds state expectations.” I’m not surprised. He goes to Golda Meir, one of the best schools in the state for decades. Even before there were school report cards, there was a National Blue Ribbon, high test scores, packed classrooms and forensics trophies within Golda Meir School’s crowded quarters.

But what happened this week did surprise me. Instead of sending Golda Meir’s students a “congratulatory” note on their success, Senate Republicans are serving up an eviction notice to the school’s Upper Campus – also known as Senate Bill 318.

You see, just one year ago, Golda Meir’s middle school moved from its bursting-at-the-seams building on 4th & Court to the vacant MECC building a block east. This move gave the school’s 3rd through 5th graders the space they needed, while allowing the middle school room to grow into its new Upper Campus.

Parents like me cheered when MPS approved plans to add a high school program to Golda beginning in 2014. This growth is great for our school community, not least because it’s ended the wrenching process of selecting those kids who would remain at Golda for middle school and saying goodbye to those who, literally, couldn’t fit in the building any longer. There is room to keep all of Golda Meir’s graduating elementary school students.

But Senate Bill 318, introduced by five Republican senators, Alberta Darling, Paul Farrow, Leah Vukmir, Mary Lazich and Glenn Grothman, disregards our progress. Because the Golda expansion plan is only in its second year, we are just growing into the Upper Campus digs. These senators would allow the state to force school buildings that are less than 40 percent occupied to be put up for sale at bargain basement prices. Soon. Even if they house growing programs. Even if the district has realized its first – albeit very modest – enrollment increase in ten years.

Great job on your new school report card, kids! Now would you mind taking a break from your standardized tests so that some publicly-funded parochial school administrators can do a walk-through?

The same fate – eviction – could face hard-working staff and students at Carmen High School of Science and Technology’s new Northwest Campus. Students enrolled in a charter school housed in the old North Division High are at risk of being uprooted. The bill is retroactive, meaning that it’s not just lightly populated school buildings the district must sell for bottom-dollar prices to competing school operators—it also targets school buildings with expansion plans and city partnerships already in planning stages.

It’s hard for me to tell my kid that he should memorize Spanish verbs and focus on advanced algebra when we know a few legislators owned by special interests plan to turn him out of his award-winning school environment. Even if his school were struggling, getting an eviction notice – or even the threat of eviction – is bad for any kid, anywhere, trying to learn.

It’s bad news for Milwaukee taxpayers, too, and it could spread statewide as Wisconsin Republicans continue stripping local control from rural and urban school boards. Remember when school vouchers were a Milwaukee-only deal? Then they expanded to Racine, right? Today vouchers are in school districts statewide.

Tonight I’ll pack my kid’s lunch – brain food, healthy stuff. I hope he eats it. Tomorrow, I’m asking folks across Wisconsin to write their legislators and demand we preserve local control, and let local school districts manage their own business.

If this out-of-control Legislature can go after one of the most successful elementary programs in Wisconsin, it’s a good guess they could be escorting real estate agencies around your public buildings next.

Categories: Op-Ed

9 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Don’t Take Away Our School Buildings”

  1. Michelle says:

    MPS owns dozens of vacant buildings. What are they waiting for, is MPS the Kohl’s Dept stores for vacant land or what? Sell the buildings to people who will do a good job educating kids if MPS can’t do it. Now, it is time for me to get on my soapbox. To be a better city, Milwaukee needs a better school system. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever happen under the current school board and mayor. The school board is run by some major, radical left wingers. Left of Tammy Baldwin. Parents vote with their feet, and they have been leaving for decades. It is time for radical change, but it will never happen. I’m glad some parents are able to get their kids into better schools. Wish more could, too. Thank Walker for that. Would be better for the kids. But the school board will never make needed changes. Status quo and power is easier to maintain. Feel bad for the parents who want to get out

  2. debra says:

    except MPS enrollment is up this year for the first time in a decade, so parents are voting with their feet, they’re opting to stay. it’s about time that we support what’s good about our schools and stop parroting the propaganda from the past. instead of working so hard to dismantle public schools it’s time to help successful public schools survive, thrive and model their programs for struggling schools to improve. public education made this nation great, and public education is a critical part of a successful future.

  3. John says:

    This bill is a direct response to the situation where MPS is stubbornly refusing to sell it’s vacant Malcolm X Academy to St. Marcus Lutheran School. The folks at MPS won’t sell the Academy because they know it will allow a high-performing school to continue to expand and improve, thus further highlighting their incompetence. Golda Meir has nothing to fear.


  4. Melissa says:

    MPS enrollment was over 100,ooo in the late 90s. Now it is about 78,000. You are correct, enrollment was up this year by about 40 students. Parents are tired of waiting for the school board or mayor to get their act together and fix the schools so have been leaving for a long time, can’t blame them really.

  5. Tony Tagliavia says:

    A few items posted here are not true and ought to be corrected and other items need to be shared:

    1) “MPS owns dozens of vacant buildings.” FALSE.
    As detailed in a document provided to the legislature, MPS currently has 16 unused buildings, one of which is a small office building that used to house an entrepreneurship program and is not a traditional school building. As also shared with the legislature, most of these facilities are available for sale with the exception of a small number of buildings for which the district has plans. These include Dover, 88th Street, Hayes and Malcolm X.

    MPS has been strategic in its use of facilities which have primarily been used to expand or replicate successful programs. Just this year, Reagan College Prep High School, I.D.E.A.L. Charter School and Golda Meir School — all rated meets or exceeds expectations by the state — have added a significant number of students because of the district used its facilities strategically to give the schools room to grow. MPS also added four new charter schools this year thanks to its strategic use of facilities, including a new campus for Carmen High School of Science and Technology, which was rated one of the 10 best high schools in Wisconsin this year according to U.S. News and World Report.

    2) As noted in another post, MPS has posted its first enrollment increase in a decade. Read more: http://www5.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/dept/superintendent/2013/10/mps-enrollment-grows-for-the-first-time-in-a-decade/

    3) “Golda Meir has nothing to fear.” FALSE
    The original Senate Bill 318 and the current Assembly Bill 417 would force the sale of Golda Meir. The school would be classified as underutilized because it is growing into new space.

    4) As has been shared publicly, MPS offered St. Marcus three buildings other than Malcolm X (a site for which the district has plans), but St. Marcus leaders declined the opportunity.

    Tony Tagliavia
    Milwaukee Public Schools

  6. Tammy says:

    Bruce-Take a look at the MPS sale today of Malcolm X Academy to some investor. Pretty corrupt stuff

  7. Kyle says:

    I wonder if Tony Tagliavia will come back to explain why Malcolm X was “sold” if it wasn’t for sale.

  8. Andy says:

    The Malcolm X sale is EXACTLY why a law like this is needed! It’s costing taxpayers the equivalent of over 700 students leaving for a voucher school! I suppose since St. Marcus wants to expand to 900 this is a win for MPS?? Too bad it’s a losing proposition for the children, families, and taxpayers of milwaukee. MPS is a joke, the school board is a group of egomaniacal, self serving, uncompromisingly selfish group that would rather cause harm to all of MPS then to do anything to help cultivate any alternative school choices.

    The legislators have openly said they would talk about the bills to protect situations like Golda Meir that truely are set up for expansion… but was explicitly designed for situations like Malcolm X. Once again, I have added to the reasons to send my kids to private/voucher schools and/or move out of Milwaukee before they reach school age.

  9. Susan says:

    The Milwaukee Public Schools offer a great education to anyone attending! Melissa stated that MPS needs to fix the schools. What’s your solution Melissa? Please spend a couple of days within the schools and see the good that happens. Some schools within MPS have problems like every district does, and if you think that only MPS has problems, think again. I have friends throughout the US, and they encounter the same thing. I’m not teacher. I’m a proud MPS parent!!!

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