Graham Kilmer

Campaign Targets MPS Funding Referendum

Atty Dan Adams forms Milwaukeeans For Affordable Housing, bashes proposed tax hike.

By - Feb 24th, 2024 10:27 am
Riverwest Elementary School, 2765 N. Fratney St. Photo taken March 30th, 2021 by Dave Reid.

Riverwest Elementary School, 2765 N. Fratney St. File photo by Dave Reid.

A local attorney is creating a campaign to oppose the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) referendum asking voters to increase property taxes to prevent large budget cuts for the district in coming years.

The campaign, called Milwaukeeans For Affordable Housing, was formed by Daniel M. Adams, a former state Assembly candidate who supports charter schools and the director of Milwaukee Works, a nonprofit that conducts polls on local public policy and elections. Adams’ campaign is taking issue with the property tax increases proposed by the district, arguing that it will harm housing affordability in Milwaukee.

“I formed the committee because I looked to my left, I looked to my right and there was nobody else starting an organization to do this,” Adams told Urban Milwaukee. “And as I talked to my neighbors, I learned that there was an appetite to push back against this next referendum.”

The referendum will appear on ballots during the April 2 referendum. It is asking voters to grant MPS approximately $252 million in spending authority, with approximately $125 million coming from a property tax increase. The rest of the funding will come from state equalization funding that builds over the succeeding four years until 2028 when MPS reaches $252 million in additional funding.

The property tax impact will arrive in the first year, and according to the school district, will translate to a tax increase of $216 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

It is too much, too fast, Adams said. The average homeowner in Milwaukee will see a roughly $400 increase to their property taxes, and the increase will likely be passed on to renters across the city, he said, adding that the property tax will not sunset after the four-year timeline building up to the full spending authority.

“They were just funded; they just went to referendum [in 2020]; they made promises during that referendum,” Adams said. “They have dusted off the exact same promises, tripled the cost of the referendum, and put them back to taxpayers without showing any improvement in the district and without showing any plan on how to use the money.”

On the other side, a campaign urging support for the referendum is putting the choice in different terms. That is, without the funding, MPS will have to make hundreds of millions in budget cuts, and these cuts will diminish educational opportunities for children across the city. The campaign, called Yes for MPS, is being organized by the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) and several other political and labor organizations.

Adams said he understands what the district and supporters are saying about the looming budget deficit, but countered that the problem lies with the state’s funding formula so that’s where the solution should come from. “Clearly, the funding formula that comes from Madison is broken, and the leadership need to go to Gov. [Tony] Evers and the Legislature and tell them to fix the formula,” he said.

Putting all the funding “on the backs of homeowners and renters” will lead to evictions and seniors on fixed incomes moving out of their homes, he said. “We have this huge crisis of affordability in our community.”

Supporters of the referendum don’t see any other options that will reliably help the district avoid budget cuts. The state has not pegged school funding to inflation for more than a decade, and attempts to advocate for more state aid have not succeeded.

Milwaukeeans For Affordable Housing does not yet have local organizations that have joined it, Adams said, saying he wants the committee to be a “rallying point” for information on the referendum and the campaign against it.

Adams faces an uphill battle, as past polling by MPS, which he revealed through an open records request, has shown strong support for the public school system in Milwaukee.

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More about the 2024 MPS Referendum

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6 thoughts on “Campaign Targets MPS Funding Referendum”

  1. Ryan Cotic says:

    This is one of the reasons we moved to the Falls. 1/2 mile over the border we have a 5% sales tax as opposed to 7.9% and our property taxes are almost half of what they would be for a house of the same value in Milwaukee. Our schools are top 15 in the state and MPS is rated dead last. We love Milwaukee but the current union run political structure has destroyed it and every governmental entity within it due to corruption and greed. Families will continues to leave and are voting with their feet to leave that system. MPS is withering and will die on the vine on its current course.

  2. says:

    Adam’s is right about the failure of the state to pay their fair share for Milwaukee kids’ public education.But as we’ve seen, under the Walker/Fitzgeral/Vos regime, that’s never going to happen,hence the need for the referendum. As far as Mr. Suburban “ I know what’s best for the city I won’t live in”, he should stick to playing in the MAGA sandbox that his community has become. Don’t you have some books to ban?

  3. Duane says:

    There is an article in todays MKE Journal about the attorney’s campaign against the tax hike. Adams is characterized as “a self identified Democrat and libertarian”. As far as his libertarianism goes the article states
    “In an interview last year, Kia Boys documentarian Tommy Gerszewski (known as “Tommy G”), who called Adams his lawyer, asked Adams how the city should help “Kia Boys,” young people in Milwaukee who Gerszewski filmed driving recklessly. Adams said he was “big on charter schools,” saying they have “entrepreneurial spirit” that “filters down in the culture. Whereas you have this big bureaucracy in Milwaukee Public Schools and it doesn’t filter,” he said. “What filters is: Cover your ass, get your piece of the pie and go home.”

    We all have different life experiences but it seems confusing to think taking tax dollars to run private schools is “libertarian”. (But libertarians never made much sense to me, especially the Koch Bro’s).

  4. TransitRider says:

    Ryan, although property tax RATES are higher in Milwaukee than in Menonomee Falls, Milwaukee’s per capita property tax REVENUES are lower. One reason is because Milwaukee (City and County) hosts more than its share of tax-exempt property.

    Examples of tax-exempt facilities drawing services from Milwaukee taxpayers while mostly serving non-residents include:

    American Family Field
    Fiserv Forum
    Baird Center
    Arena & Miller High Life Theater
    Marcus Performing Arts Center
    The Milwaukee Rep’s complex
    Pabst Theater
    Riverside Theatre
    Bradley Symphony Center
    state fair
    Summerfest grounds and other lakefront parks
    the domes
    the zoo
    Federal Courts
    sewer treatment facilities
    airports (plural—don’t forget Timmerman)

    Does Menomonee Falls have even one tax-exempt parcel that serves mostly people from outside the Falls?

  5. blurondo says:

    TransitRider and I are in agreement. Because of the extensive list of city services provided to non-resident wage earners,on more than a few occasions, I’ve voiced support for an income tax on those earning a living in the city. However, if the recent trend of corporate re-location from the suburbs to the city continues, it may be time to observe the impact of those moves. (Did Tony Evers know that these re-locations were coming when he endorsed the widening of I-94 from 16th St. to 70th)?

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