New proposed school budget brings more cuts and bigger class sizes, but still sees less funding

May 10, 2018

A teacher addresses the Milwaukee Board of School Directors during a special meeting to address the 2018-2019 school year budget on May 3, 2018 at the Donald J. O’Connell Memorial Auditorium, MPS Central Services Building.

A Milwaukee Board of School Directors budget hearing on May 3, 2018 attracted an audience of about 100 and generated only about a half dozen speakers, a noticeable contrast with the contentious, seven-hour budget hearing on April 17, 2018.

In attempting to agree on a 2018-2019 school year budget, the Milwaukee Public School system is confronted with a number of challenges which include declining enrollment (which decreases state and local revenue); increased costs for employee health care, pensions and supplies; as well as a number of aging buildings which are not well suited to the educational needs of its 76,000 pupils, the majority of whom are from low-income households. Milwaukee is the largest school system in Wisconsin with a budget in excess of $1 billion.

The board has proposed a $1.17 billion budget which technically begins on July 1, 2018, but is not expected to be approved until November 2018. The proposed budget anticipates receiving $10.9 million less in revenue than last year and includes $36.3 million in debt, a figure which Milwaukee Public School Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver warned was likely to increase to an unsustainable $177 million by the 2022-2023 school year without significant cuts. This will be the last budget prepared by Dr. Driver, who recently announced her intention to accept a position as the President and CEO of the United Way of Southeastern Michigan beginning in July 2018.

The budget proposed on May 3 includes cutting per-pupil spending for schools by 5 percent and central office budgets by 15 percent. It also proposes cutting 146.5 full-time positions, including 80 teachers, 49 teacher’s aides and 21.5 non-school staff. The proposed budget includes a total of $11.8 million in salary increases, including a 2.13 percent cost of living increase for all employees and a seven-year plan to increase compensation for teacher’s aides.

Several teachers who chose to speak at the hearing on May 3 seemed resigned to larger class sizes and having to make do with fewer resources. During her turn at the podium, Angela Harris, a teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, proposed an end to the adversarial environment around creation of the budget and suggested that everyone involved embrace “a more positive student-centered” approach.