A group of Milwaukee Public Schools officials appeared before the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee at City Hall Tuesday morning to offer updates on the plan to open an International Baccalaureate middle school at the former Malcolm X Academy, 2760 N. 1st St.
The communication — sponsored by Ald. Robert Bauman — was made by school board president Dr. Michael Bonds, MPS superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver and the district’s director of facilities and maintenance Gina Spang. They were joined by Thomas Gartner of the City Attorney’s office.
“There appears to be a lot of negative publicity, which has cast MPS in a very negative light. Unfairly, based on what actually are the facts,” said Bauman by way of introduction.
“For whatever reason, nobody seems to want to talk about the facts. So I hope this is an opportunity to set the record straight so the media can report accurately that this was not some some sham, shenanigans (or) some scheme to simply defeat the ambitions of choice and charter schools, but started out as a very legitimate transaction. The transaction fell apart due to a dispute with the developer (2760 Holdings, LLC) and now MPS is proceeding in a very rational, logical way relative to the future use of this property.”
Committee chair Ald. Jim Bohl added that after being updated about the changes by the district and seeing the media response, “the decision was made in consultation between myself and Ald. Bauman — and I even conferred with the council president (Ald. Michael Murphy) — that it would be prudent to schedule this as a communication file just to provide a fair opportunity for the district to air out the reality had occurred rather than leave a misperception that had taken place in the press.
Bonds explained why the deal with the developer ended — you can read the background here — and that the district had arrived at a settlement to pay $507,562 to 2760 Holdings, LLC for work already provided on the project. The district presented the committee with a detailed breakdown of the reimbursement of expenses.
“We’re getting value for that work, for that payment,” Bauman asked. “This is not just a settlement of the developer’s profit, or some ransom that we’re paying? We’re getting actual value for that 507,000, which we would’ve had to have spent anyway with other architects and engineers?”
Spang replied that the amount — which Bonds said was independently vetted — covers “work products” that were necessary for the project to move ahead regardless of who the developer is, including architectural services, engineering surveys, energy assessment, mechanical systems assessment, environmental assessment, research on potential tax credits and other costs.
A motion — made by Ald. Jose Perez to place the communication on file — was passed unanimously but not before Ald. Willie Wade balked that the chair didn’t consult the council representative for the district in which the building is located, Ald. Milele Coggs, who also spoke, seeking to clarify for the record when she was notified of the changes.
“It should be protocol,” Wade said, “that we have a conversation with the person that officially was elected to represent the district.”
Driver said that MPS and the city plan to release and RFP in coming weeks for the project and again noted that the project is to build a home for an IB middle school, “with dual language opportunities” that is still expected to open by fall 2016.
“So, in short summary,” said Bohl, “on time, on schedule and anticipated on budget.”