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MPS proposed budget would cut about 300 positions

MPS Superintendent Keith Posley released his 2024-25 budget proposal, which includes cutting 288 positions.
Emily Files
MPS Superintendent Keith Posley released his 2024-25 budget proposal, which includes cutting 288 positions.

On April 2, voters narrowly approved a property tax hike for Milwaukee Public Schools.

MPS leaders said the $252 million referendum was necessary to prevent major cuts to schools.

Now, we have a better idea how MPS will use that referendum funding. Late last month, Superintendent Keith Posley released his $1.5 billion budget proposal for next school year.

MPS will maintain art, music, and other positions supported by 2020 referendum

MPS said all along that the 2024 referendum would help sustain the art, music, physical education, and library positions that it’s added in recent years, after the passage of a 2020 referendum.

Rising inflation and an 8% salary increase ate into the 2020 referendum funding more than expected, which is part of the reason for the 2024 referendum.

Even with the new referendum, MPS is facing a budget shortfall

MPS revenue is down for a few reasons: State funding hasn’t kept up with skyrocketing inflation, student enrollment has declined, and the hundreds of millions of dollars MPS received in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) runs out this year.

MPS used some of its ESSER funding to pay for ongoing costs, like staff.

MPS was forecasting a $200 million deficit next school year. With $140 million in additional revenue from the referendum (which is being phased in), the district says that deficit has shrunk to $60 million.

MPS proposes cutting 288 full-time-equivalent positions

Superintendent Posley's budget plan would cut about 40 school-based jobs and about 250 non-school-based jobs. That’s an about 3% cut to MPS’s workforce.

Included in the proposed cuts are 130 school support teachers. School support teachers are teacher mentors who work with classroom teachers to improve instruction.

MPS Spokesperson Nicole Armendariz says MPS was previously receiving a federal Title 1 grant to fund school support teachers. When that grant ended in 2023, MPS started using temporary ESSER funding. Now that money has run out, and MPS is proposing eliminating the positions, which would save about $12 million.

Armendariz says the school support teachers will have the option to be hired as classroom teachers for next school year.

Budget would combine some departments

As MPS tries to keep budget cuts away from students, it’s looking to make most reductions to positions that aren't located in schools.

It would cut staff in areas like technology, food service, and curriculum and instruction.

Posley is proposing combining some departments and reducing their staff. For example, his budget would combine the Black and Latino Male Achievement (BLMA) department with a newer department, Gender Identity and Inclusion, which is focused on girls and nonbinary students of color.

Armendariz says MPS would also combine its Restorative Practices department and its Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) department under this budget proposal. Both departments are focused on finding less punitive ways to respond to behavioral issues.

Armendariz says 11 positions, three of which are currently vacant, would be cut from the combined departments: four from BLMA and Gender Identity and Inclusion, and seven from Restorative Practices and PBIS.

"Staff currently filling these positions all have been offered other positions, eliminating the need for layoffs," Armendariz says.

MPS still expects many vacancies

MPS has struggled to fill a lot of positions in recent years, which has left students with substitute teachers or even virtual teachers to fill in the gaps.

The district is again expecting a lot of vacant jobs. Posley's budget includes an expected savings of $48 million from unfilled positions.

Critics and analysts have asked why MPS doesn't adjust its staffing plan to reflect the positions it is able to fill.

Could MPS come back to voters with another referendum?

This budget shows that the $252 million referendum approved by voters doesn't fix MPS's long-term budget challenges.

MPS is still projecting deficits in future years, even when the referendum gets fully phased in.

The district could keep going back to voters for more money. Or, it could look to long-term cost-saving measures, like closing under-enrolled schools. MPS has 156 schools for less than 70,000 students.

A consultant will be studying MPS facilities this year, and will make recommendations this fall about whether to close or consolidate schools.

You can testify on the MPS budget

The MPS Board will hold public hearings this month on the budget for next school year. The first hearing is May 7.

The public can testify in-person or virtually. You can also submit written comments to the board by emailing governance@milwaukee.k12.wi.us.

Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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