[MKE - Indymedia] shenanigans
pryz1 at earthlink.net
Wed Nov 16 11:43:20 PST 2005
(Published in educationnews.org November 16, 2005)
November 15, 2005
Shenanigans rule in Milwaukee education marketplace
By Daniel Pryzbyla
On Thursday evening November 10, the pro-voucher Milwaukee public school boards slim 5-4 majority voted to close 4 public schools, including Juneau high school. In the same week, the citys zoning board approved a special use permit for 5.75 acres of a churchs property to include a 300-student private high school.
A jubilant crowd of churchgoers applauded and cheered in Milwaukee City Hall this week as the Board of Zoning Appeals approved a special use permit for Christian Faith Fellowship Church to convert a former strip mall
into a community center for youths that will include a new gym and a 300-student private school, Tom Heinen reported in the November 12, 2005 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The predominantly African American church bought the vacant, former strip mall land in December 2003 for $1 million. It was reported that after construction and renovation, it would be called Destiny Youth Plaza. The 6,000-member church on the northwest side of the city is about 10 blocks away from the proposed project. Located on 14 sprawling acres, it already houses the K-8 (Pastor) Darryl L. Hines Academy, one of a handful of schools in the City of Milwaukee charter school program.
Originally, the Academy was in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) that had been granted religious school funding in a highly contentious State Supreme court ruling in 1998. By state law, charter schools cannot have religious affiliation. Apparently convinced the church Academy could coincide successfully inside the church and avoid religious influence, former MPS superintendent Dr. Howard Fuller, the citys charter school coordinator at the time, supported its conversion to charter status. Financially, receiving tax dollars for charter schools ($7,050 per student) is more profitable than being a religious school ($5,943 per student). Considering bias, Barbara Horton, one of the 5 elected pro-voucher MPS board members, is also the administrator of the Academy charter school. Final approval of the zoning boards recommendation for Destiny Youth Plaza and its education programs need consent of the city common council. Pastor Darryl Hines is the brother of Alderman Willie Hines Jr., recently elected to the politically powerful position of President of the council by the majority of his peers. He selects all committee chairpersons and becomes acting mayor when the mayor is out of the city.
Unlike at city hall, there werent jubilant crowds at any of the MPS individual school evening hearings Monday, October 31 through Wednesday, November 2. The agenda to close 4 public schools at the end of the school year was to save the district $3 million. On the chopping block were Frederick Douglas and Emanuel L. Phillip elementary schools, Daniel Webster middle school and Solomon Juneau high school. The following evening, November 3, Juneau high school students and supporters packed the 300-seat MPS auditorium for the boards Strategic Planning and Budget Committee meeting and hearing to protest its school closing. Many of them had marched with signs and a banner from their school to the hearing. In solidarity, they wore black t-shirts with white lettering; Keep Juneau Alive on the front side and We will be heard, 1933 ? on the back. With scores of registered speakers, a 2-minute time limit was imposed. Only a handful of speakers supported the administrations unpopular school closings. Among them was Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) pro-voucher president Tim Sheehy. Buoyed by cheering support from the predominant African American audience opposing the closings, speaker after speaker most of them Juneau students voiced eloquent support for the schools unique programming, including its special program for blind students. Not to be left out, several speakers also spoke in favor of keeping Webster middle school open too. Beginning at 6 pm, the lengthy 4 hours of testimony finally culminated, followed with another hour of debate by the committee. By a 5-4 margin the pro-voucher elected board members prevailed, voting to close all 4 MPS schools. By then, most of the audience had departed; especially students that had to attend school the following day. Although the closings still had to be officially approved at the boards regular meeting being held the following week, it would be the same 9 board members voting again minus any further public testimony.
Strangely omitted in most news media reports, at the hearings, and even in documents presented by MPS to close Juneau high school was that it is an MPS charter school. Juneau Business high school received charter status from the school board in 2001 for the typical 5-year time frame. Its in the same Juneau building constructed in 1933 on the citys far west side, still located in a comparable all white residential and small business community. The school, close to a neighborhood park, still houses the indoor swimming pool, and baseball diamond and track in the spacious areas on the north and south sides of the building. Originally chartered to enroll 875 students, it currently has 904 students and a waiting list. Like other charter schools, it is also allowed diverse programming, but still unavailable to most regular public schools under the watchful eye and demands of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education act.
A state charter school information form noted: An intersession program allows Juneau to break the school year into three segments. In the fall semester, students take six classes of 57 minutes, and the semester ends before winter break in December; spring semester begins at the end of February. In between is a 33-day intercession. During intercession, students take only three classes in blocks of 113 minutes. Additionally, Intercession allows students who failed basic classes during the fall semester to retake those classes and be back on track for the spring semester. For other classes, students engage in project-oriented class work and extensive off-campus studies. Numerous students speaking at the hearing explained their personal positive experiences in these education programs.
Another significant omission from the administrations proposal to close the 4 public schools was its ties with the $94 million MPS Neighborhood Schools Initiative (NSI) implemented in 2000. NSI was designed to restrict students to attend their neighborhood schools to curtail the districts $50 million school bussing budget. In turn, the state-backed bonding for NSI provided new school buildings or additions needed in certain neighborhood clusters while proposing to combine or close schools in others. Hailed by former mayor John Norquist and other NSI supporters, they said it would eliminate the costs from the failed court-ordered social engineering bussing plans meant to help integrate Milwaukee public schools.
However, NSI and other programs didnt prevent bussing of primarily white students outside the MPS district to nearby school districts schools, also an outlay from MPS and state transportation budgets. In effect, NSI and closing Juneau both contribute instead to the citys current documented racial hyper-segregation. The west side neighborhood where Juneau Business charter school is located has remained a predominantly white neighborhood, but its present student population is now mostly African American. Any bussing costs are minimal because MPS high school students must find their own transportation to the citywide school, including using city busses. A speaker at the hearing addressed these racial implications of MPS closing Juneau. Afterward, outside the building, others raised similar concerns. Would they be closing Juneau if the racial figures were reversed? No way! exclaimed a disgruntled African American parent.
MPS administration asserts past, present and future school closings are necessary because of the citys decline in student population. Opponents of these and any future school closings view it as a way to provide school buildings for voucher and private charter school operators to purchase or lease. Closed public schools typically remain empty (mothballed) for at least a year. Additional information in the November 3 agenda for the committee meeting to close public schools confirms their viewpoint. This mothballing will allow the district time to consider other uses for the sites or to assess the market for opportunities for lease, sale, or redevelopment.
Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, Education and learning have become tools for shaping the future, said Martinez White, the high schools student council and senior class president. Closing a school that students and parents chose as the safest and most adequate institution to obtain an education is simply a conspiracy to re-ghettoize the ghetto. And I must make it clear that re-segregation was not part of Kings dream. In addition to Whites essay opposing Juneaus closing in the November 10, 2005 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Stephanie King, the high schools senior class valedictorian, ended her essay, It is a loss to current Juneau students, and those who were yet to come, if this irreplaceable school is closed.
The evening their essays appeared, the MPS school board, by the same 5-4 margin, voted to close Juneau Business charter high school and the 3 other public schools.
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