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Failing Milwaukee School System: “No Competition Wanted, Like Coke Selling to Pepsi

31 December 2013 The Report Card

According to the Wisconsin Reporter, Milwaukee Public School system (MPS) has been blocking several charter and private schools in the choice program from buying nearly every one of its unused facilities, an investigation conducted by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty has revealed.

“In other words, practically every vacant school building could have a charter or private school in it — if MPS (or the City) was minimally cooperative,” WILL Education Policy Director C.J. Szafir says in his report.

WILL also charges that Milwaukee’s policy of giving MPS the authority to designate and sell or lease its surplus properties violates the spirit of 2011’s Act 17, a state law that authorizes the common council to pursue such deals if a complex has been unused or underutilized for at least 12 consecutive months.

All of MPS’ vacant facilities have been empty more than a year, and more than 66 percent have been unused since 1997.

Some MPS board members have said it doesn’t make sense to sell those buildings to choice schools, even if taxpayers are left on the hook for millions of dollars.

“It’s like asking the Coca-Cola Company to turn over its facilities to Pepsi so Pepsi can expand and compete with the Coca-Cola Company,” board president Michael Bonds told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. What Mr. Bonds fails to understand is that both Coke and Pepsi are successful and know how to compete, whereas the MPS is a failure and should welcome strong performers.

Wisconsin taxpayers have been forced to spend millions of dollars to take care of empty Milwaukee Public Schools buildings the district refuses to sell to choice school operators.

MPS’ 15 vacant structures, some of which have been unused for close to a decade, are costing state and local taxpayers approximately $711,000 per year in utility and maintenance expenses.

Wisconsin Reporter did a study of the 10 largest school districts in the state and found that, compared to Milwaukee, the nine others have a combined total of just five idle buildings, costing taxpayers about $83,000 a year.

MPS spokesman Anthony Tagliavia partly attributes that difference to the Milwaukee district having the biggest facility inventory and the greatest number of students.

But dwindling enrollment also is undoubtedly playing a role.

MPS, which consists of numerous low-performing schools, has seen its student population drop from 92,395 in 2005-06 to an estimated 78,599 in 2013-14, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

MPS has been blocking several charter and private schools in the choice program from buying nearly every one of its unused facilities, an investigation conducted by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty has revealed.

MPS could actually make money if it sold the former Malcolm X Academy to St. Marcus Lutheran School. But MPS evidently has no interest in quality education, public or private.

St. Marcus Superintendent Henry Tyson has told Wisconsin Reporter his school has reached out to MPS on several occasions to try to buy the facility in cash for its “fair market value,” which he says is easily more than $1 million.

St. Marcus also would invest an additional $4 million to $7 million in building improvements.

“None of that would be a taxpayer expense,” Tyson said. “It would all be privately funded.”

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