Senator Taylor on MPS-Mayoral Takeover: “If the bill comes to the floor in the Senate, it’s going to pass.”

MacIver News Service

[Milwaukee…] Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) proclaims that if her bill giving the mayor of Milwaukee control of Milwaukee’s Public Schools comes up in Special Session this week, it will pass the State Senate.

“I believe if the bill comes to the floor in the Senate, it’s going to pass,” Taylor said in an exclusive interview with the MacIver News Service. “I don’t hesitate on that.”

Taylor’s bill, co-authored by Rep. Pedro Colon, (D-Milwaukee) is the result of a compromise between legislative supporters, the mayor and the governor. It grants the mayor authority over MPS and allows him him to pick the superintendent. City residents would still be allowed to elect the school board, but many of its powers would be transferred to the superintendent. Current Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett originally wanted the ability to appoint the school board himself.

Some of Taylor’s Democratic colleagues from Milwaukee are opposed to her proposal. Two of them, Milwaukee Senator Spencer Coggs and Representative Tamara Grigsby, recently announced their own proposal, which would allow the mayor more say in MPS, but their plan stops short of handing over full control of the district. The Coggs-Grigsby plan has the support of the teachers’ union and several prominent community activists.

Governor Jim Doyle has called a Special Session of the Legislature for Wednesday. He wants both the Senate and the Assembly to take up the Taylor-Colon bill, as well as another bill that grants sweeping new powers to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He says it is imperative these reforms pass before Wisconsin submits its application for federal Race to the Top education funding. That deadline is January 19th.

Yet it is far from certain that the Governor will get his wish. Whether the Legislature even debates and votes on those bills will depend on the results of closed-door Democratic caucus meetings held before Wednesday’s scheduled action, when the Legislature meets for an Extraordinary Session to act on drunk driving bills.

“I, of course, will be bringing it (her bill) up in caucus,” Taylor said.

Moreover, the Milwaukee State Senator says she won’t be the only working to convince Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Schofield) and others to allow a vote in the Senate.

“I’m certain that Mayor Barrett will come to Madison to try to talk to leaders about moving the bill forward,” said Taylor.

There have been several closed door meetings held to craft and debate the MPS reform proposals, including an invitation-only meeting at the Governor’s residence last week. However, the bill has yet to have a public hearing and Senate Education Chair John Lehman (D-Racine) recently told Taylor the bill would not get one until after January 1.

“Getting it to the floor is the challenge right now,” said Taylor.

The next few days will determine whether all this behind the scenes lobbying will be successful, and whether the Legislature will answer the Governor’s call for action on the Taylor-Colon MPS bill this week.

MacIver’s Bill Osmulski reports from Milwaukee in this video by the MacIver News Service:

By Bill Osmulski
MacIver News Service