BizTimes Editor Blames the Victims in Milwaukee

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Milwaukee BizTimes editor, Andrew Weiland recently wrote an editorial called, “Superman! Where are you?” In the piece he questions why the Milwaukee Common Council is refusing to approve the reappointment of Department of City Development (DCD) Commissioner Richard “Rocky” Marcoux. Weiland argues that Marcoux should be reappointed because of the rapid development in downtown Milwaukee, while the Milwaukee Common Council argues that this development has been disproportional to the development of low-income neighborhoods that are suffering. South Side Alderman Tony Zielinski had this to say about the performance of Marcoux:

When I hear statements to the effect of what a great job is taking place (by Marcoux), I just have to stand up and say, you’ve got to be kidding. We have, if not the highest, one of the highest African-American male unemployment rates in the country. What has been advanced to address that issue in 12 years? You talk about development…look at the central city. What kind of development have we seen in the central city in the last 12 years? With the development we have had, it’s been downtown. Instead of addressing those most in need in our community, we are focusing on other areas, and we are not even doing a good job at that.”

Zielinski is absolutely correct! Milwaukee needs a balanced approach to development in Milwaukee and not just a “market-driven” approach as Weiland suggests. The market has ignored these communities and Weiland, who lives in Muskego, does not care for these families, who also would like to see DCD paying attention to their neighborhoods, and not just catering to the needs of wealthy developers downtown.

Next, Weiland had the gall to blame the city’s lack of economic development and jobs on Milwaukee Public Schools:

The lack of economic development in the central city is also market-driven. The high violent crime rate, poverty and poor performance of Milwaukee Public Schools creates an environment the marketplace wants to avoid. The DCD can’t change that fact.

MPS didn’t defund itself. So if the economy is failing you can’t blame it on a school district that has been attacked and defunded for decades.

Just fifteen years ago…high-poverty (MPS) schools were fully staffed with librarians, guidance counselors, full-time reading specialists, art, music and physical education specialists, program implementers, technology teachers, paraprofessionals, special education teachers, nurses, social workers, psychologists, speech pathologists, and classroom teachers with small classes that allowed them to provide plenty of individual attention to children.

These same positions have been stripped out of MPS year by year, but Weiland, whose home district of Muskego still enjoys many of the positions MPS has seen cut, somehow thinks he  knows what’s best for Milwaukee.  It’s the same kind of hypocrisy we’ve seen from MPS Takeover co-authors Rep. Dale Kooyenga and Sen. Alberta Darling, who blame MPS for not getting higher test scores, while at the same time presiding over a state budget that allocates more money per pupil for their own students than MPS.  They claim to want to “help” our students, but their actions speak louder than their words.

We don’t want the “help” of Rocky Marcoux, Dale Kooyenga, Alberta Darling, Andrew Weiland, or his “market-driven” approach to economic development in Milwaukee, because we’ve seen what their idea of help amounts to in practice. It’s good to see the Common Council taking a different approach.

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Milwaukee NAACP Issues Statement Against Republican Threats to Defund MPS

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The Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP issued the following statement in response to threats against MPS made from Wisconsin Republican Senator Scott Fitzgerald, Representative Dale Kooyenga, and Senator Alberta Darling.All three lashed out at the families and students of MPS, last week, following the resignation of Takeover Czar Means and the outright refusal of the people of Milwaukee to accept a Takeover of their public schools. The NAACP’s statement correctly identifies whom the anger should be focused on.

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“Separate and Unequal,” 62 years later

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Written by: Jamaal Smith

On May 17, 1954, a landmark decision was made when the United State Supreme Court ruled state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students as unconstitutional. In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Warren Court stated that “separate educational facilities were inherently unequal,” and violated the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. The Brown decision was pivotal in the fight for integration during the Civil Rights era. The expectation was that ALL children would have equal access to quality education and opportunity, which should be a fundamental right, regardless of race. However, 62 years since the historic “great equalizer” decision, black and brown students are again the targets of racial inequality within the educational system.

 

Emma Brown, columnist for The Washington Post, recently reported that, according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, “the number of high-poverty schools serving primarily black and brown students more than doubled between 2001 and 2014.” This study is holding true in the state of Wisconsin, as GOP lawmakers have devised laws that continue supporting “separate and unequal” practices. One of those strategies was the elimination of the Chapter 220 program, which allowed for students of color from high-poverty neighborhoods to attend schools in predominantly white suburban school districts. In addition, two Republican legislators, State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and State Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), created the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program, a law intended to hand underfunded MPS schools to private, unaccountable operators. Cities like New Orleans and Detroit have been subjected to similar “Recovery Districts” with catastrophic results, but the commonality that exists between those cities and Milwaukee is that these laws are constantly imposed on black and brown communities without input. The OSPP legislation was passed in the middle of the night without a public hearing even taking place.

 

The OSPP legislation hands authority to a Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele with no college degree, who appointed Dr. Demond Means, Superintendent of the predominantly white Mequon-Thiensville School District, as the Commissioner over a predominately nonwhite district. Abele and Means created a proposal that claims MPS can still remain in tact even if one of the schools were moved under the OSPP district, which is inconsistent with the law. At a recent debate with MTEA Executive Director Lauren Baker at Marquette University, Rep. Kooyenga even stated that he was not a supporter of Dr. Means’ proposal because it counters what was written in the legislation. What is most disconcerting with Abele and Dr. Means is that they both admit the OSPP legislation is an unjust law, but insist the democratically elected school board of MPS should give up local control of their publicly-funded schools. Based on this rational, Civil Rights leaders should not have fought against the injustices within Jim Crow because they were law, right. Or the Black Codes, which brought about involuntary labor on freed slaves for minor “infractions” passed by southern states after the Civil War.

 

Just as it was not acceptable to comply with an unjust law then, the same ideology should exist on unjust laws now. An unjust law is no law at all!

 

We must continue the fight against modern day segregation and racial discrimination within our education system. Our children deserve our efforts to stand up for their future just as those before us stood for ours. Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” In the face of an obvious wrong, the time is now to stand and fight for what is right!

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Come and Learn About Community Schools

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Kyle Serrette, the Education Director for the Center for Popular Democracy will be presenting the national Community Schools model to the SASI School Board meeting at MPS Central Offices this Thursday, May 19 at 6:30pm. The authentic Community Schools model improves student outcomes by focusing on the whole child through six specific approaches. Bring a friend and learn more about how we continue to build authentic, public, community schools in MPS like those already started at Auer Avenue, Bradley Tech High School, James Madison Academic Campus and Hopkins Lloyd.

Riverside H.S. Staff Organizes to Oust Demond Means as Commencement Speaker

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When Nick Dlapa, the union building representative for Riverside University High School found out that MPS Takeover Czar Demond Means was tabbed to be the school’s graduation commencement speaker, he immediately stepped up. He and other teachers in his building mobilized and pulled together a team to fight back. Next they met with the principal to voice their displeasure and threatened to start a petition. The blow back for the decision was so immediate and loud that school administration immediately reversed the decision. Means is a graduate of the school.

Nice work Riverside High School! As Means and Abele target their Takeover schools in the coming weeks staffs in other buildings can learn a lot from the solidarity and organization of the Riverside staff. Together we will defeat this take over of our schools, and maybe Demond Means and Chris Abele will begin to see that the people of Milwaukee want public Community Schools, not Takeovers.

Takeover Czar Demond Means presents his plan to take over MPS buildings to administration and the school board.

Here’s what you can do right now to help defeat the Means and Abele Takeover:

Gutted: The “future” of Milwaukee Public Schools

Takeover Czar Demond Means presents his plan to MPS administration and the school board.

Takeover Czar Demond Means presents his plan to start taking over MPS buildings to administration and the school board.

Written by Jamaal Smith

I remember growing up how much I enjoyed going to school every day. I can still remember my third grade teacher, Señora Rivera, greeting us every morning as we walked in the classroom at 55th Street School (now known as Milwaukee Spanish Immersion). I remember Mr. Stawicki taking the classroom by storm at Samuel Morse Middle School when he introduced “The Great PHEOC,” a character he made a reality when we were discussing the scientific method in science class. Finally, I will always be indebted to Mrs. O’Keefe-Boetcher, who helped me through difficult times emotionally during my senior year at John Marshall High School and pushed me to become a strong writer. There were many more experiences that I could name, but the common denominator of these experiences is that they occurred in Milwaukee Public Schools.

Like many MPS students, I did not grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. I was raised in the 53206 zip code and looked poverty, violence, crime, disenfranchisement, and resource deprivation in the face every day. However, the feeling I had when I walked through the doors of each MPS school I attended will always be cherished and appreciated. These types of feelings and experiences are what Dr. Demond Means, Mequon-Theinsville Schools Superintendent and the Takeover plan, would deny nearly 80,000 students across the city of Milwaukee, with nearly 90 percent of the affected population being students of color. In a city labeled the most segregated in the United States, any policy that exacerbates inequality contributes to worsening segregation.

In addition to being the most segregated city, Milwaukee is one of the poorest cities in the nation with the highest rate of Black male incarceration, Black-White achievement gap, Black male unemployment, and Black female evictions across the state. With over 80 percent of the students within Milwaukee Public Schools living in poverty, they are forced to deal with the strenuous difficulties of instability, malnourishment, and neglect. And let’s not forget the rising homicide rate that has left many students traumatized and in need of care. Students feel lost and hopeless with no direction. For many, MPS schools have become a safe haven to be free of their precarious home environment.

In spite of these circumstances, County Executive Chris Abele and his school takeover Czar, Demond Means, have decided to go along with the plans of conservative, suburban state legislators with a history of introducing racist legislation. Their plan will gut Milwaukee Public Schools, the largest school district in the state of Wisconsin, by converting it to the same type of takeover district that has produced disastrous results in cities like Detroit and New Orleans.

Chris Abele claimed during his campaign for county executive that he wanted to focus on the racial disparities that exist throughout Milwaukee County. Well, this attack on the future of students of color was a prime opportunity to do so. There is growing demand in Milwaukee for the implementation of the Community Schools model, with all of the holistic level benefits that it would provide for students and their families. Abele has mentioned to me personally how much he “loved” Community Schools. If that be the case, then why have we seen no effort from Abele to fight for the Community Schools model, to use it to transform MPS like it has transformed public schools in Cincinnati, OH, where the graduation rate has gone from 59 percent to 82 percent since its conversion to Community Schools? Why, when we have this proven model, are students of color treated like lab rats in failed school privatization experiments?

Let’s be clear, Means’ proposal to partner with the Chicago-based Acadamy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) is alarming. If we follow down the same path as Chicago Public Schools, AUSL will remove our quality, licensed educators and replace them with young, inexperienced, unlicensed, unqualified babysitters who are not prepared to deal with the despair caused by socioeconomic ills prevalent in Milwaukee.

If Abele and Means are as concerned as they claim to be about our children, then they need to focus on models that have been proven to work, instead of gutting our public school system for the sake of another failed experiment. Until our elected officials begin to prioritize our children instead of their relationships with right-wing ideologues, our movement will continue to grow in militancy. Right now, students, parents, educators, and our allies are preparing to do whatever it takes to defend our schools.

 

Jamaal Smith speaks at a rally at the Milwaukee County Courthouse in favor of public Community Schools and against any MPS Takeover.

Jamaal Smith speaks at a rally at the Milwaukee County Courthouse in favor of public Community Schools and against any MPS Takeover.

Here’s what you can do right now to help.

Chris Abele Continues to Change His Tune on MPS Takeover

Chris Abele now says, in a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, that he won’t take over any MPS schools as a part of the state directed public school Takeover. He only wants to provide support and wrap around services for MPS students and families. Last month, Abele’s appointed Takeover czar, Demond Means, told a crowded room at the Washington Park Senior Center that they planed to take over multiple buildings. A few months ago, Abele said he was going to take over only empty buildings.

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How many times does Abele get to rewrite the narrative on the MPS Takeover? How many times can he consult with his Republican friends who sponsored the Takeover and cut deals to give him cover during a hotly contested County Executive election? If Abele was to win the election, how many MPS schools would be threatened with takeover then?

 

The Takeover legislation specifically says at least one school falls victim this year. Abele says he talked to the legislators and they said he could ignore the Takeover program’s rules. He admits he will break the law and be supported by the same Republican legislators who created the law. Where does this chicanery end?

 

The Milwaukee community won’t be fooled by this trickery. These are our schools, our children, not some political football.

 

The Web We Weave When We Aim to Deceive from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Please sign this petition demanding public community schools that have a proven record of success. We want community schools, not takeovers!

Why Are Privately Run Charters Marketing to MPS Students During Instruction Time?

Milwaukee residents pack a school board meeting to say no to privately run charter schools (Photo credit: Joe Brusky).

City residents pack a school board meeting to say no to privately run charter schools (Photo credit: Joe Brusky).

Imagine your child is in math class when all of a sudden the teacher announces the lesson will be ending early so that someone can speak to the class. That person turns out to be a private third party operator who runs a privately run charter. The reason they want to interrupt your child’s instruction is to sell their unaccountable privately run charter school to your child.

That’s exactly the request being sent to fifth grade teachers in Milwaukee Public Schools through the district’s email service for a new MPS privately run charter called Milwaukee Excellence Charter School. This is the email message that was sent to a fifth grade teacher on Milwaukee’s north side:

Why are ten year old MPS students having their precious instructional time interrupted by a salesman selling his wares? Parents should be the ones making school choices for their children. Do the MPS Board of Directors and the MPS Administration know that private charter operators have unfettered access to our students during their learning time? Who has given the green light to third party operators to prey upon Milwaukee students?

Traditional MPS schools that are fully accountable to the elected school board and whose operations are completely transparent to the public do not have the luxury,  privately subsidized budget, or time to engage in marketing of their school, nor should they! Shouldn’t a school’s ability to effectively educate a child be the only marketing aspect for a school? Why and how are privately run charter schools allowed to use taxpayer money to market, when that money should be going to instruction. This is a gross misuse of taxpayer money.  You’d think MPS would be searching for ways to attract seats to the district not steal seats from it. This practice needs to be stopped and our students’ instruction time needs to be refocused on learning, not manipulating students and parents into attending schools that stifle their voice.

How a City of Milwaukee Charter School Dodges Accountability

King’s Academy charter school has been a city of Milwaukee 2R charter school for six years. Because of the work of a small group of committed Milwaukee residents to make the city’s Charter School Review Board more transparent and accountable, more attention has been placed on how the city scrutinizes contracts with charter schools like King’s Academy. Much of that attention has been placed on King’s Academy for a poor record of performance and red flags in several key areas highlighted in this 2014 report prepared by the Schools and Communities United coalition.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 7.31.06 PMA report like that would seem to surely ensure the school’s removal from the city 2R charter program given such a long track record of poor performance, but who needs to be held accountable when all you have to do is go to another school system. That’s exactly what King’s Academy did at the August 13, 2015 CSRB meeting in announcing that they would no longer be seeking a contract with the city and instead would be heading back to the Wisconsin voucher program (so called Milwaukee Parental Choice Program):

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This was the response from Schools and Communities United to Board President Michael Murphy on King’s Academy and their sudden transition back to the voucher program, effectively dodging any accountability or track record as a school.

King’s Academy and other sham school operators will continue this voucher shell game of legalized corruption that fails Milwaukee students. Voucher schools run from accountability and hide from transparency. Public tax dollars belong in public schools. It is far past time to declare a moratorium on the failed private voucher system in Milwaukee.

Movement to Stop School Takeovers Building Momentum in Milwaukee

The resistance is rising.”

– Keron Blair – Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools

Saturday’s citywide convening of School Defense Committees brought together parents, students, educators, community members, and politicians from all around the city and beyond to take the next step in the fight against public school takeovers and advance public community schools for Milwaukee.

The morning started of with passionate and thought-provoking speeches and calls to action from Alliance to Reclaim Our School’s Keron Blair (video), Dyett School hunger striker Jeanette Taylor (video below), and author and educator Isabel Nunez (video).

Saturday's speakers included (from left to right) Keron Blair, Jeanette Taylor, and Isabel Nunez.

Saturday’s speakers included (from left to right) Keron Blair, Jeanette Taylor, and Isabel Nunez.

Following the morning speakers, the real work of the day began. Attendees met in small groups, where they worked through School Defense Committee (SDC) toolkits that provide individuals and groups with the blueprints to organize locally in their building, church, or community group against public school takeovers.

These SDC Toolkits are available to parents, students, educators or community members, who want to organize others in their school community to stand up for public schools. All those organizing SDCs will be making sure to hold their first meeting by January 31st, 2016. It was also announced that on February 17th,  2016  Milwaukee will be joined by over 20 other cities in a third round of walk-ins for public education.  The next convening of SDCs will take place on March 20, 2016. Details will be released when they become available.

Saturday’s emcee Angela Walker introduces attendees to the School Defense Toolkit.

The School Defense Committee Toolkit includes:

Click on the links above to view and print sections of the toolkit, or click here to download a toolkit.

Anyone who decide to organize a School Defense Committee should fill out this form so we can track who is organizing School Defense Committees. Be sure to include the date for your first School Defense Committee gathering.

As Jeanette Taylor ended her speech, “We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for,” and now is the time we must act to ensure public education is not killed on our watch.

I Went on a Hunger Strike to Save Public Schools from MTEA Union on Vimeo.