MNS – Milwaukee’s vacant school buildings may soon no longer lie abandoned.
On Monday, Governor Scott Walker signed a bill into law that allows the City of Milwaukee to authorize the sale of empty public school buildings within its district. This currently applies to 13 vacant district properties – and a potential 14 more that are listed as surplus. A building must be ruled to have been either unused or underutilized for 18 straight months to become eligible for sale by the city.
The funds raised by the sales will go to the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) school operations fund. A Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction report suggests that this legislation will decrease costs and increase revenue within MPS through both the sale values of these buildings and the lost costs of having to maintain them. The exact amount of this benefit will be determined once transactions are made.
This has been considered a major step forward for charter schools in the Milwaukee. The access to proper facilities for these schools had been a roadblock in the city whose charter granting authority is the most flexible in the state. Now, growing schools will be able to add campuses close to their student base. New institutions will be able to make use of buildings that declining enrollments had left dormant for years.
“The signing of this bill into law is one more significant effort to enhance the size and quality of independent charter schools in the City of Milwaukee,” said Dennis Conta, Executive Director of the Milwaukee Charter School Advocates. “We hope it only represents the beginning of other initiatives to grow high-performing autonomous charter schools throughout the state.”
Many of Milwaukee’s vacant school buildings remained unsold thanks to MPS’s unwillingness to deal with increased competition for students. Many advocates of keeping the schools under the control of the school board, including Jill Gaskill of the Wisconsin PTA were willing to sell the properties to developers that would work under MPS, but not to independent educational authorities. The city, which is home to most of the state’s independent charter schools, now has the ability to resolve this impasse.
The bill will create a stronger network of charter schools in Milwaukee, as well as increase the competition that MPS faces. For the city, this bill presents a fiscal benefit for public schools through the sale of unused buildings and allows for more innovative institutions to grow within city limits. Despite opponents’ fears behind the creation of new schools, Milwaukee’s students will stand to benefit from greater classroom options, as well as the competitive effect of a new entity in the marketplace.