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Milwaukee Public Schools Reject County Turnaround Plan

School Officials Continue To Push Back On State-Mandated Intervention


Milwaukee Public School officials have rejected a plan from the county executive and his appointed commissioner to create a county-led turnaround program for the district’s lowest-performing schools. District leaders countered with their own proposal, which they said will meet requirements set out in state law.

Milwaukee schools Superintendent Darienne Driver and school board president Mark Sain responded Friday morning to a proposal released in April by Demond Means, superintendent of the Mequon-Thiensville School District and commissioner of the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele appointed Means to head up the program after it was created by the state Legislature as part of the state’s 2015-2017 budget.

The 2015 law calls for the partnership to take over the operation of up to three schools for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years and up to five schools in following year. Under the plan released by Means and Abele in April, the partnership would run one school next year using a community school model, which means bringing in community organizations to provide wrap-around services like a health clinic and social services. The school would be run by a charter school operator, but remain part of the Milwaukee district and employees would also remain in the district and their unions.

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The school district is proposing the partnership run an early childhood education program inside a former Milwaukee Public Schools building starting in 2017, which school board President Mark Sain would complement the district’s ongoing efforts to improve schools for children living in high-poverty communities.

“It just helps give kids a great foundational start to their academic careers. Secondly, it doesn’t pose a lot of disruption with our families and staff,” Sain said.

At a Friday press conference, Driver said the county’s plans for the school’s curriculum and funding were unclear, the process for selecting a school hasn’t started and neither has the process for selecting an operator. She also said it wasn’t clear whether the plan from Means and Abele would comply with the laws that created the partnership. Given those unknowns, she said in a later interview, she wasn’t confident the partnership could get a school off the ground for the next school year.

“Families really not having the opportunity to be notified, schools didn’t have the opportunity to participate in the quality reviews, which are really an important part of doing a needs assessment for school turn around. This is really the best option for our school district and for our students and families,” she said, referring to the early childhood program proposal.

There was a June 23 deadline for the school district to respond to the April proposal. School and county officials all said they had asked for meetings to discuss the turnaround proposals, but they will meet for the first time next Thursday. Driver said the district was acting within the established timeline by responding to the county’s proposal Friday.

In a written statement issued Friday afternoon, Country Executive Chis Abele said he was disappointed by the rejection.

“While we still wish to partner with MPS and ensure the OSPP school remains public, we must move forward with implementing the law,” he wrote. “However, given that some School Board Directors have publicly indicated a willingness to accept our proposal, we will hold on taking action until after the June 23rd deadline we offered MPS in the case that the duly elected Board of Directors decides to accept our proposal.”

He said he’s hopeful the district and county can find a way to move forward working together when they meet next week.