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Milwaukee schools pass $1.5B budget amid financial scandal

Interim MPS superintendent not yet named following Keith Posley's resignation

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Community members spoke for and against the $1.5 billion MPS budget proposal Tuesday. Margaret Faust/WPR

Milwaukee Board of School Directors members approved a proposed $1.5 billion budget Thursday night. The vote comes after mismanagement and financial failures were uncovered over the last several weeks. 

The board voted 7-1 to approve the budget, with Darryl Jackson voting against it, saying there has been no transparency from school district employees when it comes to money. 

Jackson said he planned to ask CFO Martha Kreitzman questions before the budget vote, but he found out Thursday she had retired. 

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“For a year, I’ve been asking to meet with her, and it hasn’t happened,” Jackson said. “We talk about transparency and people stepping up and speaking out. I’m hoping that the culture doesn’t exist anymore or dies away. The favoritism. The nepotism. The cronyism that existed here. It is very real.”

Board members said they needed to approve the budget by the end of the district’s fiscal year on June 30 so staff members could continue getting paid and operations could move forward. 

The proposed budget can still be changed until final adoption in October.

“Passing the proposed budget ensures continuation of critical services, such as meal and mental health care programs for students throughout the summer,” according to a press release from the district after passage. “Additionally, it means teachers and staff will continue to receive payroll checks, and school leaders can plan for the next school year, among other important matters.”

MPS is facing a reduction of millions of dollars 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. 

Fixing financial errors in MPS will take the next year

The district submitted a Corrective Action Plan to the Department of Public Instruction this week detailing how it will address overdue financial data and compliance issues. 

The plan paints the picture of an inexperienced, understaffed financial office that was using an outdated accounting system to manage the state’s largest school district.

The MPS software system, BusinessPlus, needs to be updated so it can convert financial data to the DPI’s WISEdata system. Throughout the report, MPS cites not being able to access WISEdata as a reason for missing deadlines.

The Corrective Action Plan sets the course for MPS to make improvements over the next year. All overdue financial data must be submitted to DPI by Sept. 26, according to the report.

Gov. Tony Evers has also called for two external audits of MPS. 

Before the budget vote Thursday night, dozens of people spoke for and against passage. 

Julia Vascan, a teacher at Sherman Multicultural Arts School, said educators deserve to be paid for their time and dedication. 

“Many people in the general public have no idea what educators do on a daily basis,” Vascan said. “And they do not know what our day to day looks like.”  

Playtime is over’

As she spoke, members of the audience were rowdy and had to be told to be quiet by Board President Marva Herndon, who threatened to have people removed. 

“I implore the board to vote yes and support strong public schools so we as teachers get the resources we need,” Vascan continued. 

Pamela Watkins, a former MPS employee who now works at the Milwaukee County juvenile detention facility, said she is tired of seeing 12-year-olds charged with murder. 

“You can’t move forward on this budget and think it’s OK,” Watkins said. “You are part of the problem. Do what is in the best interest of our brown children. Quit allowing them to be victims of our system. Playtime is over and we have had enough of being deceived.” 

After voting for the budget, the board went into closed session to discuss an interim superintendent. Superintendent Keith Posley resigned earlier this month. 

The district has not responded to requests for comment on whether a decision was made.