"Status quo is not acceptable:" Proposal suggests change in Milwaukee Public Schools

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A commissioner with the authority to take control of struggling public schools in Milwaukee. That's the proposal from a pair of state lawmakers.  Critics say it undermines the vote of Milwaukee residents. Those pushing the proposal say major change is long overdue when it comes to Milwaukee Public Schools.

MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver says before the state pursues major change in Milwaukee schools, she should have the chance to get the wheels in motion on her plans to improve struggling schools.

"I would hope that we'd be given the opportunity to, particularly since I've only been on the job for 11 months -- to be able to show we can turn these schools around before we have any type of outside partnership to do that," said Driver.

State Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Representative Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) have proposed the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program. In a brief overview released this week, the lawmakers propose having a commissioner appointed by the county executive. That person would operate independently from the school board -- and would have the authority to assume control of failing MPS schools -- either directly managing them or soliciting offers from charter or private schools.

"We think the status quo is not acceptable, that for decades, we have had schools that have been under-performing," said Sen. Darling.

Sen. Darling says MPS has 55 failing schools, and this plan would focus in on a select few at first.

"What we're doing is only taking on three schools the first round, and then up to five the next round," Sen. Darling said.

Critics of the plan, such as the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA), say the plan would take power from city residents who vote for the school board -- and give it to suburban residents who vote for the county executive.

"We've put our children's education at risk," Wendell Harris Sr. with the Milwaukee Board of School Directors said.

"It's gonna waste time and resources. By zeroing on governance we`re now zeroing on things that don`t matter," Terry Falk with the Milwaukee Board of School Director said.

"If you want a county school system, okay, let's do it. Let's deal with the hyper segregation of our county and let's have one county-wide school system and have kids come from all over county going to all the schools if that's what we want. Obviously, that's not what Alberta Darling wants," said Bob Peterson, President of MTEA.

"This is not poured in concrete. The county executive could be the one that is chosen. It could be the mayor. But right now, we've put the county executive because he's willing to work with it and roll with it," said Sen. Darling.

In a statement, County Executive Chris Abele says this is not his idea. But if it becomes law, he would accept that responsibility.

Milwaukee Board of School Directors President Michael Bonds says the district is making improvements through its Commitment Schools Initiative, which is in its first year and increases resources for under-performing schools. He says he's worried about the financial impact of the proposal.

"You can only sustain so much financial draining on a district and by turning over to choice and charter schools it has a significant impact on the district," Bonds said.