Hand back MPS’ backward budget process

Last spring I took to the streets with my children and our friends and other supporters of public education to march in support of public education.  I was moved to tears a few times because “IT” had come to “THIS.”

But frankly, I had a sense of relief as I was surrounded by THOUSANDS of people who were standing up for and marching in support of our public schools.  I was relieved because I have been a reform advocate for years and years and couldn’t understand why more people were not outraged and speaking up and out.

I am, in all honesty, thankful to the governor’s office for bringing education to the for front. (I wish he had used his political will to make things better, but alas he didn’t.  What he did do was bring a lot of people to the front lines, so for that I will say, “Thank you Gov. Walker”).

I didn’t march because our system is flawless and awesome and how dare the governor mess with such a great thing.  I marched because the availability of quality public education is a foundation to our nation’s greatness.  My family marched because our education system is at a water-shed moment and it is time to really evaluate how education is taking place and how we  invest (tax dollars) in educating our children.  Our 10-year-old son made his own sign for the downtown Milwaukee rally, although I thought  it was far too wordy for a protest sign – it read:

Dear Village,

Let’s work together to improve
& protect public education in WI.

Warmly Yours,
Public School Students of WI

From the mouths (or protest signs) of babes (or precocious 10-year-olds). He is right, we should be working together to improve education in Wisconsin and we can start by addressing the backward budget process right here in our very own MPS backyard.  I know I am not the only person who has had this suggestion, but perhaps it should be less of a suggestion and more of a rallying cry…

MPS principals and school governance councils, it is time to reject the antiquated budgeting process put forth by Central Office and move forward in providing kids what they need to flourish.

A bit of backstory for those who may not be well-versed in the budget process in Milwaukee Public Schools:

Central Office (budget office, office of board governance, superintendent’s office) sets each school up with a number – the amount of money they are expected to operate under in the coming school year. Principals, staff and school governance councils then look at that figure and decide how the money will be distributed within the school.  How many teachers, support staff members, specialists, transportation funds, coaches, supplies, etc… the school has is determined by this number.  Every year the number shrinks, as expectations of testing outcomes increase as do the number of mandated expenditures required by Central Office and the State (such as Guidance counseling time, School Social worker hours, etc…).

The magic number is determined on a per student basis with additional funds directed at schools with high percentages of children qualifying for free and reduced lunch and/or children with disabilities.  The process sort of culminates with the principals “defending” their budget in-front of a panel from Central Office and then the district signing off on it.  There is much more to this process, but that is sort of the Cliff’s Notes version.

Now, my suggestion is for principals and school governance councils – DISTRICT WIDE – to reject these provisional numbers and draft their own budgets, ones that meet the needs of the children in their school community.  I believe the principals and SGCs should identify how many teachers, support staff members, specials and supplies they will need to give children the best Opportunity to Learn in the coming school year without the cap.  Go ahead, write your ideal budget.

Let’s not get greedy here, everyone wants specialized music, art and physical education for an hour, three or four times per week.  That may not be realistic, but what could be realistic is twice per week (which is two times more than what is taking place at my son’s school right now). MPS needs to rethink how the funds are distributed.  Why not ASK the school communities what they need to give children the best Opportunity to Learn?  If a school needs more Social Work hours to meet the needs of their kids – figure out how to get them what they need.  Equity doesn’t have to be ‘equal,’ it should be what is right for that school community.  Of course there would need to be checks and balances to switching the system up,  but what we have now is a system that is based on somewhat arbitrary calculations and is punitive to small schools, as well as successful AND poor performing schools (only MPS could come up with a system that manages to further de-fund both the high and low performing schools).  The budget numbers that the schools work with are being determined by people who are not in the schools currently – and many of them have never, ever been in a classroom for more than a photo opportunity/press walk-through.

I am tired of the old way of doing things in MPS, let’s shake it up. “Getting by” each year is not good enough. Turn this backward budget process around and look for solutions.  Central Office may be surprised by the numbers that come back to them, our Principal’s have grown well versed in scrimping and being frugal. Principals and SGCs – LET’S BE BOLD – hand back that inadequate number you were given and write your own budgets.  I don’t expect this to work, but perhaps this would provide the district a more realistic picture of what our schools really need.  BE BOLD for our children are depending on you and I promise the parents in your school community will have your backs. 

(I am aware that MPS and all public school districts in Wisconsin have to function under a terminally failed funding system at the state level. I will save my insights on how to handle that one for next week).

This just in:

MPS is asking for your feedback about “The Budget”… go ahead… click and tell!


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