, ,

Legislative Republicans say audit bureau is looking at Milwaukee Schools

Republicans say MPS financial scandal is affecting school districts across the state

Milwaukee Public Schools Administration Building
Charles Edward Miller (CC-BY-SA)

Milwaukee Public Schools could face another audit as Legislative Republicans say they plan to get involved with the district’s current financial scandal. 

Republicans have asked the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct an audit of MPS. This comes as Gov. Tony Evers has called for an operational audit to review the district’s processes and procedures as well as an audit to analyze the district’s instructional policies and methodologies.

“I know that the Legislative Audit Bureau is going to be looking into it, probably in the next couple of weeks,” said state Sen. John Jagler, R-Watertown, who chairs the Senate Committee on Education.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“We had asked that the governor use the Audit Bureau, but he’s decided to go on a different path. That doesn’t mean we can’t pursue it as well. The more eyes looking at what happened to prevent problems going forward, the better.” 

As of Thursday, the MPS audit was not listed as one of the nine audits in progress or planned on the LAB website. 

Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, said it’s “incredibly troubling that the state Department of Public Instruction knew that MPS was late on reporting their finances months ago, but waited until after the $252 million MPS referendum narrowly passed to release this information to the public.”

DPI said the state first became aware in late March that MPS may have submitted incorrect data that led to the state giving the district more money than it should have.

State Superintendent Jill Underly told WISN’s UPFront on June 23, DPI did not realize how bad it was until late April. At that time, DPI began daily meetings with MPS officials, Underly said. 

Stroebel said what is happening at MPS is concerning because the district’s actions could affect schools across the state. 

“I’ve already heard from a number of constituents, including school district employees in my district, who are concerned about how this crisis at MPS will impact their school’s finances,” Stroebel said. 

Milwaukee Public Schools is facing a reduction of $35 to $45 million in state aid to offset previous accounting errors that could have caused the district to be overpaid. There is also a threat of additional state money being withheld because of late financial reports.

A Corrective Action Plan created by MPS and DPI revealed an inexperienced, understaffed financial office and the use of outdated software unable to convert financial data to the DPI’s WISEdata system. 

Acting superintendent says finances will get back on track

After these issues came to light, Superintendent Keith Posley resigned and key members of the financial team, including the CFO and comptroller, either retired or were fired. 

After Posley’s resignation on June 3, Eduardo Galvan was named acting superintendent. Galvan and three other candidates were named as finalists for the position of interim superintendent this week. One of the candidates, Stephen Murley, former Green Bay School District superintendent, withdrew from the pool. 

Galvan will continue serving as acting superintendent until an interim superintendent is selected.

Once that happens, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors will begin a national search to replace Posley.

Galvan, a 30-year veteran of MPS, said the most important thing to do is get the vacant financial positions filled. 

“The situation that we are in now is being corrected,” Galvan said in an interview with WPR. “And as we move forward we’ll continue to be in a better place. Our most important thing is teaching students, and I think sometimes that obviously, because of the situation, gets lost.”

Improving MPS beyond the financial crisis

Evers told WPR’s “Wisconsin Today,” he wanted to audit MPS to find out what was happening at both the financial and instructional levels before making any decisions. He said  a lot of people have opinions about what to do with the state’s largest school district — from dismantling it to expanding the voucher school program. 

Jagler agreed that more analysis needs to be gone, saying he’s confident the financial situation will get fixed. But student performance has lagged for decades. 

MPS has about 67,000 students; of those, 82 percent are economically disadvantaged; 50 percent are Black and 28 percent are Hispanic. 

During the 2022-23 school year, more than half of the students — 52 percent — scored at a below basic level in reading and 64 percent scored below basic in math. 

“There is a lot of finger pointing here, and nobody seems to be talking about the kids,” Jagler said. “We have a generation of kids that we’ve failed and we need to make those corrective changes.”

Jagler said as much as he would like to call for universal school choice for all, he knows that is not going to work with a Democratic governor. 

Instead, he’s hoping his Republican colleagues can find a way to improve MPS. He said he was meeting with Evers this week. 

“Let’s come out, meet in the middle and look at what changes can be made that we can agree to,” Jagler said. “Let’s start that dialog now and hopefully something will come of that meeting as we start to look forward to improving, not only, of course, the accountability when it comes to the financial aspect, but the accountability to parents and kids.”