School board elections take place on April and in order to help you make a more informed decision at the polls in this race, which often flies under the radar, we’ve asked each of the seven candidates – running for four seats on the 9-member board (there are eight regional districts and one at-large seat) – to respond to a list of questions and we will run them in the weeks leading up to the April 2 election.
Today, we hear from Larry Miller, the unopposed incumbent running in District 5. A map of districts is here.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us about your background and how your experience will be an asset to the Milwaukee Public Schools board.
Larry Miller: I came to teaching after being a union and community organizer for over 21 years. I taught at three different schools in MPS and retired at the age of 60 to run for the school board.
OMC: Are you a graduate of MPS or other public schools? Do you or did you have kids in MPS?
LM: I graduated in 1965 from Middleton High School. Both of my sons did all of their K-12 schooling in MPS.
OMC: What do you think is the biggest issue facing MPS and what is your plan of for dealing with it?
LM: If I have to pick one thing besides the lack of resources, it is the need to bring all students to grade level reading. The main means to accomplish this has been the Comprehensive Literacy Plan (CLP). I am watching this work very closely and hope to see some real advances soon.
OMC: What is your opinion on the expansion of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program?
LM: I am unequivocally opposed to expansion and feel that MPCP should be pulled back to the pre-2011 expansion, enacted by the State legislature.
OMC: Is there an opportunity for MPS to hold on to students and even draw some back via expansion of specialty schools or other means?
LM: Yes, by expanding programs that work and bringing back holistic and engaging curriculum that teaches to the whole child. This must include the arts, music, physical education and libraries.
OMC: Do you believe that voucher and charter schools should be held to the same standards and accountability as MPS?
LM: Yes, absolutely. The games that the voucher forces play should be exposed so that the Milwaukee community becomes aware of the travesty going on.
OMC: How will you work to engage parents and neighborhoods in their schools?
LM: I am working with the school communities in my district to strengthen their programs, to get the word out about MPS, to recruit new families. I am working with the Title 1 Advisory Council to MPS that is working to engage larger numbers of parents. And I have been working with high school students on the creation of a new student bill of rights. I will go everywhere I can to talk to parents, community and possible allies for our children and families.
OMC: How do you think MPS can best expand on the successes in the current system?
LM: We must grow and replicate programs that are successful. We must insure quality and culturally competent teaching in all of our schools. Staff development and training is going to be critical to advance reading scores and improve the quality of our delivery.
OMC: How can MPS deal with its massive need for qualified teachers that’s been created in the wake of Act 10?
LM: We are engaged in a very extensive recruitment campaign. At the same time I feel MPS should offer to extend the contract for teachers for positions that will be very hard to fill; special education, bilingual, Montessori, etc.
OMC: There has been much discussion in recent years of vacant MPS buildings. What is your opinion on the future of these buildings?
LM: We are in the process of placing programs in those buildings that can be retrofitted without too much cost. We have offered the City to take over a number of buildings but they have refused.
OMC: Finally, do you think spring school board elections are problematic? Do they guarantee low turnout at the polls?
LM: There are arguments for both sides of this issue. I feel, though, in districts with competitive races, a lot of attention is paid to public education that would not happen in fall elections. Examples are the races in the 6th and 7th districts at this time.
OMC: Anything you’d like to say, that I haven’t asked about?
LM: This is a critical moment for MPS. It appears that the rest of the state is rejecting vouchers. But here in Milwaukee the voucher cap has been lifted and now offered to middle class families. Also there are proposals from groups like the MMAC that call for dismantling MPS and creating two new districts, one a high performing district and the other a charter, low performing district modeled after the failed “recovery” district in New Orleans.
Milwaukee Succeeds recently called for increasing funding for vouchers and charter franchises. In response I signed on to a counter proposal that includes the following:
All schools in Milwaukee that receive public funds must adhere to Wisconsin’s open meetings/open records laws to ensure full transparency and accountability. The public must have access to information such as the percentage of students in poverty, English language learners, special education students, suspensions, expulsions, teacher certification, content of curricula and so forth.
“All schools in Milwaukee that receive public funds must respect the constitutional rights of students and staff (for example, rights of due process and freedom of speech). They also must adhere to state anti-discrimination laws in areas such as sexual orientation or pregnancy.
“All schools in Milwaukee that receive public funds must respect the language needs of students and must adhere to federal and state protections for English language learners. In particular, we must maintain and develop strong bilingual programs for the city’s growing Latino community.
“All schools in Milwaukee that receive public funds should serve all children, including children with disabilities. This also means they should accommodate the needs of all children with disabilities and not exclude, expel or counsel such children out of the school.
“All children in Milwaukee deserve a rich curriculum, including a comprehensive academic program and art, music, physical education and access to school libraries.
“We should establish a moratorium on new charter schools that are part of national franchises. Our precious educational dollars should be kept in the community, not sent out of state.
“We must develop a regional discussion on hypersegregation in Milwaukee and how such hypersegregation negatively affects not only education but jobs, transportation, housing and health care.
“For the past two decades, education reform in Milwaukee has been dominated by consumer-based, privatization initiatives. They have not worked. The Milwaukee Succeeds op-ed repackages school privatization as a call for a “unified education agenda.” But, at its heart, school privatization is a disservice to our children and our democracy.
“We must improve our public schools. But we also must defend the constitutional right to a free, public education for all children. A truly public education means more than funneling tax dollars to private voucher schools and semi-private charter schools that operate outside of expected norms of public oversight and accountability – and that undermine the very survival of MPS.
“MPS is the only educational institution in this city that has the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to serve all of Milwaukee’s children.”