Driver and Means Discuss Proposal which would Evade Requirements of Wisconsin Law
June 28, 2016 – Milwaukee, WI – Last week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that OSPP Commissioner Demond Means and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele would “take a good faith look” at a proposal by MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver relating to the OSPP. Although details are sparse – perhaps due in part to MPS’ failure to comply with open records requests – the Driver proposal is unlikely to comply with state law. Adopting it would be legally problematic for Commissioner Means who is already at great risk of failing to meet his obligations under state law that created OSPP.
Last summer, the Wisconsin legislature created the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (“OSPP”) as a way to improve the failing public school system currently run by the Milwaukee Public School district (“MPS”). Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele subsequently appointed Demond Means as Commissioner of the OSPP.
The duties of the OSPP Commissioner are spelled out in state law. There are at least four specific legal obligations, requiring Commissioner Means to:
- Create policies for identifying eligible schools to be transferred to the OSPP (Wis. Stat. §119.9002(1)(a))
- Use the policies to select failing MPS schools to transfer to OSPP. During the 2015-2016 school year, the Commissioner must select at least one and not more than 3 eligible schools to be transferred to the OSPP for the following school year. (§119.9002(2(a))
- Develop a request for proposal (RFP) process for soliciting proposals from people and schools to operate and manage the selected school(s). (§119.9002(2(b) and (c)).
- Choose someone to run the selected school(s). (§119.9002(2(d)).
It is less than two months until the start of the 2016-2017 school year and Commissioner Means has not yet fulfilled these legal obligations.
If he has created policies under Item #1 above, he has not made them public. He has not selected a school to be transferred to the OSPP, nor developed the required RFP process, or a process to select an individual to run a school. Last year, the Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction sent the Commissioner a list of approximately 55 failing MPS schools. But Commissioner Means has not identified a single one that he is willing to select for improvement.
As reported last week, Commissioner Means is now talking with MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver about adopting her OSPP plan. Unfortunately there has been a complete lack of transparency from Superintendent Driver and MPS regarding the OSPP. On May 9, WILL sent an open records request to MPS in order to obtain documents that are expected to explain more about the communications between Commissioner Means and MPS. So far, more than 35 days later, MPS has refused to turnover any documents. Further, the recent meeting between MPS and OSPP to discuss the plan was not open to the public.
In what the public does know – loosely explained in an MPS statement – the Driver plan would have the OSPP create a new early childhood education program and locate the program inside the former 35th St. Elementary school. It would share space in the same building with Assata, an existing MPS school.
Under this plan, the Commissioner of OSPP would satisfy none of the four obligations imposed upon him by Wisconsin law. It fails to set forth criteria for identifying schools to be transferred and does not designate a school for transfer. It does not contemplate a request for proposals to run a transferred school. It does not provide that any school be transferred.
Agreeing to such a plan may expose Commissioner Means to litigation from a taxpayer, a parent, or any of the potential operators contemplated by the statute to assist on the turn-around plan.
The point of transferring a failing school to the OSPP is not a mere technicality. In adopting it, the Legislature determined that it no longer wishes to fund failure. The OSPP is not simply about creating a single new pre-K program. It is about fixing schools that are not working. Superintendent Driver – and perhaps Commissioner Means – seem adamantly opposed to that.
WILL calls for the lack of transparency to end and for MPS and the OSPP to clearly explain to the public what they are discussing. WILL also calls for the Commissioner of the OSPP to comply with his legal obligations.