MPS Must Show Its Work

The MPS Board’s desire to keep the public in the dark is unhealthy

June 14, 2016

By Ola Lisowski
MacIver Institute Research Associate

With Memorial Day weekend behind us and the Fourth of July on the horizon, summer is underway in Wisconsin. Of course, we can’t forget one important bellwether: the end of the school year. Having thrown their backpacks in the corners of their rooms for the next few months, Wisconsin’s K-12 students ended the school year.

Whether they’re preparing for summer camp or a summer job, students around the state are settling in for three months of no homework. Of course, they’re not the only ones not showing their work.

Milwaukee Public Schools’ (MPS) Board of School Directors held a Special Board Meeting on June 7, for which the only item of business was “negotiation strategies related to a proposed partnership with the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP) commissioner in which the board may or may not become involved.”

Judging by that description, the meeting seemed like a good time to hash out important details on the role MPS will – or won’t – play in this program. As such, it’d be a good time for the public to hear that discussion and to see how such decisions are actually formed.

The Board held the roll call, read the items of business, pledged allegiance to the flag, read the items of business again, then voted to move to a closed-door executive session. An MPS spokesman did not return a call to comment on the meeting’s outcome or when the public might hope to hear their decision.

MPS may offer a counter-proposal that could be anywhere on the spectrum of reasonable to poison pill. They could tell OSPP commissioner Dr. Demond Means and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele to shove off. No one in the public really knows. In a society that rightfully expects transparency of its government, that’s a problem. Good public policy demands transparency, openness, and public input.

Two days later, Means and Abele held a town hall to discuss the future of OSPP with members of the public. The meeting served as an opportunity for the public to hear more about the proposal and express their opinions, one Milwaukee County spokeswoman said.

Right off the bat, Means and Abele made it clear that the plan would only include one school in its first year. Don’t hold your breath until they name the school or any further details.

A Milwaukee County spokeswoman confirmed that her office is still operating on the timeline of asking MPS to reach an agreement or indicate willingness to forge an agreement by June 23. No mention of the already-missed deadline to name a school by two weeks ago.

Of course, Means’s and Abele’s approach – holding public forums, gaining community input – whether or not it changes how the team administers the program, is far better than that of MPS. The Board’s secrecy throughout this entire process serves as a sad example of how public policy often ends up being hashed out.

For the sake of the kids who are usually the ones doing the homework, the adults can’t buck responsibility anymore: they need to show up to class, show their work, and show some results.