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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Five Things To Know About MPS' 2017 Budget

Rachel Morello
MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver

Milwaukee Public Schools' Board of Directors voted to pass a 2017 budget plan at their monthly meeting Thursday night. 

We know what you might be thinking: budgets are dense. Lots of numbers, figures and heavy education-related jargon. 

So, let's break it down. Here's a list of the five most important takeaways from the district's fiscal plan for the upcoming year: 

1. Not much has changed.

Despite the fact that overall, district revenues are down about $1.3 million, the money available for district programs & operations will remain largely the same. 

In fact, the 2017 budget calls for a number of investments, including the addition of 183 positions, and $12 million for salary increases. Other significant allowances: the expansion of summer school and English as a Second Language services, and an increase in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programming.

That's because the district has made what the Public Policy Forum calls "internal reallocations." According to the Forum's most recent study, MPS leaders plan to transfer money from certain areas (like construction funds and retirement liability reserves) and instead, invest it in other budget priorities.

Public Policy Forum president Rob Henken says the district is able to make these moves because of responsible action taken over the past few years, when there were some unanticipated end-of-year surpluses. However, he adds that reallocations this year could pose challenges down the road.

"By no means do we want to suggest that this was an irresponsible policy," Henken explains. "The good news is that you can responsibly make these move in 2017. The bad news is, you likely won't be able to do that in the future." 

2. Enrollment is expected to go down...

...again. The district projects it will lose 700 students next year, a five percent decline since 2014. 

This is not a new struggle for MPS. Some blame the proliferation of area charter and voucher schools for shrinking numbers in district classrooms.

And the numbers have real impact. Enrollment is part of a formula used to calculate state aid: the smaller the figures, the lesser the funding. 

3. This year was easier than last year (and next year).

The state of Wisconsin passes a biennial budget, which means the money MPS will get from the legislature in 2017 has already been largely predetermined. That's different from the process during the "on-year" when budget construction is still underway. 

Henken says that takes some pressure off the district. 

"It's an easier process from the perspective that the district has some relative certainty," he adds. 

4. MPS is not funding a Black Lives Matter organization.

One small item in the budget gained attention earlier this week, when dozens of people showed up to a public board hearing Tuesday night to support it.

The initiative, submitted by board Vice President Larry Miller, would allocate $471,000 next year for offerings related to cultural studies and what sounds akin to restorative justice programs.

Here's how Miller described his proposal to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Annysa Johnson:

Miller said the initiative was not intended to push a Black Lives Matter agenda, but to address some of the issues the movement has laid bare, such as institutional racism, poverty, inequities in education and police practices. "We're not saying only black lives matter. Of course, we say all lives matter. But we are a district that is over 80% black and brown students, and some of our students have a greater chance of being incarcerated than going to college," Miller said. "At the heart of this, this is about racial justice in education," he said.

Miller's idea passed as part of the approved budget arrangement. 

5. This isn't the final budget.

The proposal passed Thursday night is technically a temporary budget agenda.

Board members will revisit it once they calculate actual enrollment counts around October, and receive final aid numbers from the state.

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