New WILL Report Explains Why State is Forcing MPS to Sell Empty School Buildings

August 12, 2015 – Milwaukee, WI – Last month, the state legislature passed a law to force Milwaukee to sell their unused and underutilized school buildings. In WILL’s latest report, “Why the State of Wisconsin Forced Coca-Cola to sell to Pepsi”, we explain how this new law works – and why the state was forced to intervene.

The effects of the new law will be felt immediately. By August 14, 2015 – Friday – MPS must create a detailed, updated inventory list of all their school buildings, showing which are unused and underutilized and submit it to the City of Milwaukee, DPI, and the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance. This transparency is much needed; when WILL asked for such an inventory list, it was referred to a 2011 document. After that, by October 13 of this year, all of Milwaukee’s unused and underutilized school buildings will be on the market, exclusively available to public charter schools and private schools for purchase. The report details who can buy the buildings, which buildings will be on the market, and what the process is for submitting a letter of interest.

After examining thousands of pages of records and conducting interviews with school operators, WILL’s report also explains why the state was moved to intervene. The report documents the numerous private and charter schools that have submitted letters of interest to purchase unused buildings. Successful schools, such as Woodlands, Notre Dame Middle School, Risen Savior, Milwaukee College Prep, and St. Marcus, have all tried to buy MPS’ vacant schools, only to have their efforts rejected by MPS.

In addition, WILL’s report, co-authored by WILL President Rick Esenberg, Education Policy Director CJ Szafir, and Research Assistant Elena Ramlow, sheds light on MPS’ refusal to put its empty buildings on the market and inability to keep track of the status of their own buildings. Moreover, we explain how the City of Milwaukee has enabled this bad behavior by neglecting to use their power, which they lobbied the state for, to sell the buildings unilaterally, without MPS consent.

Prior to the provision in Act 55, Milwaukee Public Schools had a history of being recalcitrant in cooperating with potential buyers of their vacant and underutilized properties. Addressing whether the Milwaukee Public Schools ought to sell its unused school buildings to private or charter schools, MPS Board President Michael Bonds said “[i]t’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.”

CJ Szafir noted, “MPS Board President Bonds has made the analogy – wrongly – that forcing MPS to sell vacant properties to public charter or private schools is akin to forcing Coca-Cola to sell to Pepsi. This analogy belies his intent to preserve the education status quo in Milwaukee and his core belief that MPS should be the exclusive education provider for the city’s children, despite evidence that charter and private schools provide proven avenues for success.”

In January 2015, we released a report saying, at the time, there were at least 17 MPS buildings that were vacant, costing taxpayers over $1.6 million since 2012 to maintain.

WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg notes, “60 percent of children in Milwaukee will never graduate from high school and MPS’ efforts to close the achievement gap have so far been unsuccessful. Choice may not be right for everyone, but Milwaukee families need more educational opportunities and we know that there are charter schools and private schools in the voucher program who have shown success at closing the this gap.”

Esenberg continued, “While it may not seem a matter for the Legislature to involve itself in local decisions, the fact of the matter is that nearly 60 percent of MPS’ budget comes from the state and the legislature, as well as MPS, needs to exercise proper stewardship over those dollars. By not selling buildings that it does not need to educate kids to people who do need for them that purpose, the city and the district have been poor stewards of the state’s money. That can’t continue.”

The report is available here. Additionally, the exhibits and the report are available here.


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