Milwaukee schools superintendent resigns

School district is in jeopardy of losing millions in state and federal dollars

By and Evan Casey
Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Keith Posley at the June 3, 2024, special school board meeting. Evan Casey/WPR

Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Keith Posley resigned early Tuesday morning, hours after a public hearing where more than 100 parents, staffers and community members — using words like embarrassing, dysfunctional, failing and imploding — called for his ousting.

The MPS board voted unanimously to accept Posley’s resignation at about 2 a.m. Tuesday after emerging from a closed session meeting that had begun at about 8 p.m. Monday.

Posley’s last day with the district will be June 30.

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According to a statement issued by the board early Tuesday, MPS Regional Superintendent for the Southwest Region Eduardo Galvan will “support and facilitate day-to-day operations” of the district while the school board seeks an interim replacement.

The resignation comes as the district is in jeopardy of losing millions of dollars in state funding after failing to submit financial reports for months to the Department of Public Instruction. 

Millions of dollars in federal funding is also being withheld from the district’s Head Start program after officials discovered abuse and lack of supervision in MPS programs.

On Monday, hundreds of people attended a public hearing, most voicing their anger at Posley and MPS administration.

“We want you gone, no more playing games,” resident Elizabeth Brown said during Monday night’s meeting.

Following nearly three hours of public comments, the Milwaukee Public School Board of Directors went into closed session at about 8 p.m.  After more than five hours, board members reconvened in open session and unanimously voted to accept Posley’s resignation.

Many parents and staff members also demanded that his administrative team also be fired.

“There is gross mismanagement,” parent Maria Penager said. “We believed in you, but we no longer believe in you.”

The meeting was often interrupted by shouting from the audience. At one point, the meeting ground to a halt as members of the audience shouted at each other and the board president tried to regain control. Police stood in the back of the room.

Later, the crowd began chanting “Hey, Hey, ho, ho, Keith Posely has got to go.”

“The mike is going to cut off if no one is speaking into it,” board president Marva Herndon said. “Can we have order and respect please?”

More than 150 people attended the Milwaukee School Board meeting Monday with many calling for the firing of Superintendent Keith Posley. Evan Casey/WPR

Complaints went beyond the current crisis, calling into question the board and administration’s decisions about spending and staffing, about communication with families, and about students’ poor academic performance.

Several parents said they regretted lobbying friends and neighbors to vote in favor of a tax increase in a referendum this spring.

“At what point are you going to admit to lying to this community, being disingenuous about the cuts being made, while asking this community to continue to fund your foolishness,” said Sarah Gruettner, a nurse at MacDowell Montessori. “How dare you sit here and say nothing to the people.”

How did we get here?

On May 24, DPI released a letter showing MPS had not provided “key financial data,” despite numerous meetings with the state. 

In its letter to the district, DPI said that until it receives the required financial reports, some of which are more than eight months overdue, it may withhold this month’s special education payment to MPS. In June of last year, that payment totaled $15.7 million.

MPS’s delay in sending the documents makes it impossible for the DPI officials to calculate aid estimates for other public school districts in 2024-25. 

To avoid the financial cuts, the state needs information from MPS by July 1 and a corrective action plan that will then face DPI approval.

Meanwhile, MPS hired a financial consultant Monday who recently assisted the Glendale-River Hills School District.

Todd Gray, the former superintendent of the Waukesha School District will be paid up to $48,000, according to the district. The hiring of a financial consultant was recommended by DPI. 

MPS’s state funding debacle comes at the same time the federal government suspended funding for 30 days to Milwaukee Public School’s Head Start, an early education and nutrition program for low-income children. Federal officials cited “deficiencies” such as failure to supervise children at all times.

According to the MPS budget, the district received $14 million from the federal Head Start program in 2023-24. That amounts to about $1.16 million per month. 

MPS is counting on $10.5 million from the federal program for next school year, but the Head Start grant program is currently in competition, requiring the district to apply for continued funding due to the deficiencies.

MPS is the state’s largest school district with about 68,000 students. 

Who is Keith Posley?

Posley began his career with Milwaukee Public Schools in 1990, as an elementary school teacher at Benjamin Franklin School. He later served as assistant principal at Forest Home Avenue Elementary School and was named principal of Clarke Street Elementary School in 1999, according to the district bio. 

In 2018, Posley was named interim Superintendent, replacing Darienne Driver, who resigned before her contract expired. 

Posley is originally from Mississippi. He received his Master’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

Leaders across Wisconsin question Posley’s management

The Milwaukee nonprofit organization City Forward Collective, which works closely with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), said taxpayers are now at risk of having to pay even more than MPS officials indicated during the referendum campaign. 

“This is the direct result of MPS’ own mistakes and mismanagement of public funds — nothing short of a violation of the public trust,” the group said. 

When asked about the situation with Milwaukee Public Schools last week, Gov. Tony Evers said, “Am I concerned? Hell, yes. Frankly, it does not look good.”

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, told the Milwaukee Press Club last week the district has been starved for resources for years, “(But as) we stand here, Milwaukee Public Schools’ books and audits are not appropriately done … This is the bare minimum that you have to do when you’re a business.”

On Monday, Milwaukee Alders Scott Spiker and Alderman Lamont Westmoreland blamed not only Posley for the issues facing MPS, but also DPI and Evers for not telling voters before a $252 million referendum passed narrowly in April.