Thursday, May 26, 2011

In the midst of it all, the kids do amazing things

You will hear a lot in the next few days about legislative action regarding state funding for education and the expansion of voucher schools in Milwaukee and across the state.  I am headed for Madison this morning with Board President Michael Bonds in the hope of contributing to the discussion.

An expansion of the voucher option would have an impact on so many Wisconsin public school districts, such as the district in Green Bay.  Here is a look at how that district is telling its parents about the voucher issue.  Click here for an email sent out on the Green Bay Public Schools' listserv yesterday.  As you will notice, Milwaukee is referenced.

There is a new report out that shows school districts in Wisconsin facing a budget gap greater that $300 million next school year under the state budget proposed by the governor, even after districts impose some of the proposed labor concessions.  As you may recall, potential givebacks do not apply to MPS and we continue to struggle with what we anticipate will be $81 million less in state funding for next year. 

I met recently with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  In the face of our funding challenges, he was positive about the academic progress we have made and was supportive of our reform efforts.

You could show your support for public education by attending a march and rally on June 4.  It is sponsored by various organizations including the Parent Teacher Association.  It starts at 11:00 a.m.  Here is the flyer, which will provide you with more information.

In the midst of all this debate on budgets and vouchers, our kids continue to do amazing things.  I went to the Festival Hispanico late last week. That is a dance presentation held by Milwaukee Spanish Immersion School.  Principal Yvette Martel and her staff got into the action, too.  They did their own dance!  I was so deeply proud of the students. Children as young as four delighted us with their moves.  I used to be able to move like that!

Graduation ceremonies are scheduled throughout the district.  Have you made your plans yet to take in the festivities?  Here is a list of dates, times and locations.  We will soon publish all the names of the valedictorians and salutatorians as well.

Our students are performing well on stage and in their classrooms.  With all that is going on in Madison and elsewhere, let's take time to appreciate that fact.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Faces and stories

Mother and son listening.
(This post is available in Spanish. Leer artículo en español.)

I know that some of you have not been able to make it to the public hearings on our proposed FY12 budget, because of family or work commitments.  That is why I want to share some of the faces and stories of those who came Tuesday night, May 10, to the Board meeting.  It was packed!  We saw one mother who sat on the floor of the auditorium with her young son for almost two hours.  More than 60 people took turns at the microphone, giving testimony.  That mother and her little boy sat quietly and listened to dozens of them.

We had parents and students in our audience, along with art and music teachers.  Each one had a story about the potential impact of our proposed cuts, and sometimes the stories were heartbreaking.  I heard more anger than I've heard in the past hearings.  It is anger directed at Madison and at the governor.  I told our Board and the audience that I had recently spoken with the governor and that he was cordial and seemed receptive.  The proof will be in the final state budget.  I can tell you that doing more with less is getting old.

Families are starting to see the real cost of this year's $81 million in proposed cuts at the state level. 
Shantrese, a 9th grader at Washington High School, spoke on Tuesday night.  She showed us a beautiful glass paperweight she made in art class, as she talked about how sad she was about our potential cuts to art teacher positions.

Jasmine Alinder is an MPS parent.  Her testimony was riveting.  She told of writing to state lawmakers about the governor's proposed cuts.  Only one legislator wrote back.  He shocked her with his response.  He told her that public education had become a social welfare agency.  Ms. Alinder quoted the state statute on equal access to education and framed our battle as a civil rights issue.  Click here for the full text of her comments.

Riley and Ella
We heard from Ella and Riley, a girl and her brother who attend Tippecanoe School. Ella said Riley was shy, and so she spoke for both of them in defense of the arts at their school.  They brought a hand-lettered sign with them.

Some children made us smile with their testimony, but others had us in tears.  We are haunted by the worries of the mother who described the fragile medical condition of her son, who needs medical support during the school day.  His school is one that will be without a nurse next year. We are fighting for restoration of state money that had supported 21 nursing positions.

This was a hearing that no local reporters attended, or wrote about for the late newscast or the morning paper.  A writer with the Los Angeles Times stayed the entire five hours, but he is mostly focused on potential impacts of the governor's budget on labor unions.

We heard you, though.  And we will listen again during the public hearing on Thursday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m. The meeting is in the Central Services Auditorium.  I hope you can come.  I hope you will not have to sit on the floor or wait for hours to testify.  But as Miguel Salas told us Tuesday night, it is important to be an advocate for public education and for MPS.  Miguel is a product of MPS and has a child in one of our schools.  "Speak truth to power," he said.  Like Miguel, I hope that the "power" in Madison is listening.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Speaking out

     Tonight we had the second public input session on our proposed FY12 budget. I wish I could personally thank each of the parents, teachers, school nurses and retirees who took time to come to the meetings and spoke about their concerns.  Board Directors and members of the Administration are taking careful note of what is said, and we are endeavoring to answer all questions that have been raised. It has been heart-breaking to hear the worry in the voices of the mothers who came out tonight to support our nurses, some of whom face potential layoff because of the governor's proposed elimination of the state money that supports them.  And the nurses who spoke this evening gave the audience a clear idea of how much they do for children in our schools.
     Let me take a moment to direct attention to a couple of budget documents we have on our portal.  They may shed some light on what the challenges are.  First, here's a link to our Companion Guide for Parents.  I really like this document for its clarity.  The final page of the Guide is actually a form that our parents can use to write about their concerns and then either mail or fax it back to us. 
     Here's the direct link to the Finance Department's budget pages on the portal.  Be forewarned: the Line Item document is 510 pages long.  Reading it on the web is a better option than printing it! 
     Consider coming to one of our meetings.  The statutory public hearing is May 19, at Central Services, 5225 W. Vliet Street, in the Auditorium.  Here is the full list of meetings. 
     I hope to see you, and frankly, to hear your voice during our process.