WILL Associate Counsel Libby Sobic and WILL Writer and Reseach Associate Cori Peterson write in UrbanMilwaukee on how selling vacant buildings could alleviate the school system’s financial challenges.
The deadline is fast approaching for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) to present a finalized budget and tensions are high as the district faces an estimated $38.7 million deficit next year. If nothing changes, the deficit will grow to $177 million by 2022.
It is a shame that MPS is in this position, because the district will have to make cuts and teachers and administrators will lose jobs. But there are common sense ways to cut spending including some ideas that the district paid MGT consulting group $956,501 to recommend. In the report released this spring, the consultant group recommended that the district sell or repurpose 20 existing MPS buildings and renovate existing schools.
This is not the first time MPS is hearing this. Over the last decade, there have been a number of choice and charter schools interested in purchasing the buildings, as the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) chronicled in 2014, 2015 and 2017. WILL urged MPS to sell the buildings to interested private and charter schools. Nevertheless, MPS and the city of Milwaukee have worked together to prevent the sale of vacant school buildings to interested charter and private school operators for years.
In 2015 the state legislature got involved and passed a “Surplus Property Law” to force the city to sell unused or underutilized school buildings to private and charter schools. However, the city of Milwaukee refuses to comply with the law. For example, MPS is allowed to decide which buildings are “vacant” even though that is clearly defined in the law. And the list of available vacant schools for sale is quite clearly incomplete. This makes the process difficult for interested buyers.