Terry Falk

The Fall of a School Superintendent

The inside story: Why MPS superintendent Keith Posley could be fired.

By - Jun 3rd, 2024 09:47 am
Keith P. Posley. Photo courtesy of MPS.

Keith P. Posley. Photo courtesy of MPS.

On Monday evening, Keith Posley will find out if he remains as Milwaukee’s school superintendent.

The community was shocked to learn that Milwaukee Public Schools’ funding for its Head Start program was being suspended by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services for continued violations that compromised the safety of children. That was quickly followed by a letter from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) warning the district that it, too, might withhold funding because MPS was behind by at least eight months in submitting required documents.

However, school board members were already aware that the MPS administration might be having difficulties beyond the day-to-day functioning of the district.

Even the deficiencies in the district’s Head Start program were communicated to board members as far back as February 2023. The administration stated it would correct the problems. But on May 26, 2024, the U.S. Administration for Children and Families outlined those deficiencies still existed and suspended funding. MPS would have to use its own funding to finish out the school year.

In its letter, the federal agency stated that it found children sometimes unsupervised and mistreated, personnel lacked licensing, and other shortfalls in the Head Start program.

MPS may have to rebid against other providers in the next round of authorization for Head Start, which could mean a loss of over $10.5 million in federal funding for next year.

Then came the announcement of a possible cutoff of state funding because the district was behind in filing reports to DPI by over eight months. The board was not aware that the MPS administration had not filed the necessary documents.

A year ago, the board questioned the administration on the management of the district’s finances. At the May 18, 2023, Finance, and Personnel Committee meeting, the board received its audit from Baker Tilly. In this document for the 2021-22 school year, the audit contained the following statement:

“Our evaluation of the internal controls over financial reporting has identified control deficiencies that are considered material weakness surrounding the preparation of financial statements and footnotes including the schedule of expenditures of federal and state awards, adjusting journal entries identified by the auditors, and an independent review of financial reports.

“Management has not prepared financial statements that are in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles or the schedule of expenditures of federal and state awards that is in conformance with the applicable federal or state requirements. In addition, material misstatements in the general ledger were identified during the financial audit and subsequently corrected upon being questioned as part of the audit process.”

The committee clearly had concerns about the report. “I found it upsetting at best,” Board president Marva Herndon said at the meeting. “My questions are how are you going to handle this moving forward?”

Director Missy Zombor made a motion to accept the audit, but required an update be given at the December meeting.

At the Dec. 19, meeting, Matthew Chason, director of the MPS Office Accountability and Efficiency (OAE), noted the problems outlined in the previous audit and asked what corrective actions the administration was taking. OAE is an independent office accountable to the board, not the superintendent, to ensure an independent evaluation of the district.

Martha Kreitzman, the MPS chief financial officer, confessed that the administration lacked the proper staff. “Have you ever been faced with a challenge and didn’t know what direction to go?” she said. “The challenge seemed impossible. That is what Finance was faced with as we had essential position vacancies including the comptroller, the reporting manager… the budget director manager and coordinator.”

But she put the financial issues in the best possible light. “This year [22-23] compared to last year [21-22] we met most of all our deadlines now, as we’re trying wrap up the audit, things have got a little more difficult as we close out the financial reporting… We made all or most of our deadlines to the auditors.”

Kreitzman brought in outside consultants from Protiviti and Robert Half to shore up the staffing shortfall. However, she did not report to the board the extent of the difficulties or that the district was missing state reporting deadlines.

Two knowledgable sources told Urban Milwaukee that Chason was cut off from receiving internal information on certain aspects of the districts’ finances beginning in January, and his access was not restored until May. If so, that will be a sore point with board members.

On May 24, Wisconsin DPI sent a letter to Posley informing him that the district was over eight months overdue in filing required reports and may withhold funds from the district beginning with $15.7 million in special education funding and additional funding in the future if reports are not filed.

At the full board meeting on May 30, members of the public expressed their disapproval of Posley, with some shouting “fire him.”

School board director Darryl Jackson stated that board members have faced a situation where central office employees will not consult with board directors without permission from higher authorities. “We are not able to talk to you, director,” was what Jackson was continually told.

Since these deficiencies have come to light, Chason stated that OAE has been charged by the board “to facilitate and coordinate swift corrective action.”

Chason has used his authority to hire a limited-term employee to help in the investigation, correct problems and facilitate filing the necessary documents to the state. That individual is Todd Gray, a former Waukesha superintendent who has an extensive financial management background. Gray served as interim superintendent of the Palmyra-Eagle district for three years, ending in 2023. There is no indication that he is being considered for a similar position in Milwaukee.

“It would not be out of bounds for him [Gray] to suggest structural changes in MPS,” Chason told Urban Milwaukee. “We will be looking at making long-term recommendations.”

The board was supposed to pass the 2024-25 budget at the May 30 meeting, but deferred it to a later date in June.

Now the board may consider a far more charged issue, whether to fire the superintendent or take some other disciplinary action. Monday’s meeting at the MPS central office auditorium, will begin at 5:30 p.m. and the fourth item on the agenda is: “Possible Action Concerning the Administrative Assignment Status of the Superintendent.”

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3 thoughts on “K-12: The Fall of a School Superintendent”

  1. blurondo says:

    Yet another arena in a government bureaucracy where egos exceed competence.

  2. Mingus says:

    If the head of the School Board’s Office of Accountability and Efficiency, Matthew, is intentionally cut off from getting the information he needs to do his job, the Board should have seen that has an indication of these issues and should have taken action at that time. A number of school boards in Wisconsin overreach and get into the day to day activities of schools. The Milwaukee School Board for some reason had a hands off approach to the administration. This historical policy needs to be reviewed.

  3. Counselor of Peace Joel Paplham says:

    I thought the concept of changing the color of faces in key leadership positions was the answer for improvement of race relationships and development of improvements in all areas of white privilege???

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