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

$1.2 Billion MPS Budget Maintains Staffing, But School Employees Say It's Not Enough

Emily Files
MPS paraprofessional Crystal Ealy testifies to the MPS Board. "How are the children? The children are not well. Because we are not well," she said.

The Milwaukee Public School District is beginning another difficult budget process.

New Superintendent Keith Posleyis proposing a $1.2 billion spending plan for the 2019-2020 school year. It includes a modest boost in classroom funding, including 62 new teacher positions and 22 educational assistants.  

Superintendent Posley frames the budget as a school-friendly plan, emphasizing the fact that it increases school operations spending from 88 to 90 cents per dollar.

At a public hearing Thursday, several MPS principals spoke in support of the plan because it doesn’t eliminate staff in their buildings.

“To open the FY20 budget to find that I would be able to keep all of my staff, my electives and all the other items needing to effectively manage the school building – I was elated,” said Morse Middle School Principal Phyllis Anderson.

Some principals said their schools would be able to add one or two new positions thanks to the budget.

But teachers and other school workers said maintaining positions and adding a few new ones isn’t enough. They packed the public hearing to urge the district to create an environment where staff members want to stay.

“Sometimes I think why do I stay?” said Wedgewood Park Middle School teacher Elizabeth Kosmach. “Why do I want to stay in a district that when I retire, I will have no health insurance? Why do I want to stay in a district that there is no way to move up in the pay scale? We need steps and lanes to retain teachers. Otherwise, you are setting yourselves up, MPS, as a training facility for suburban districts to get teachers.”

Credit Emily Files
Superintendent Keith Posley looks on as MPS building service helper Anita Blue explains to the board that after 28 years, she earns $14 an hour.

The proposed budget includes a cost-of-living salary increase of 2.44 percent. But teachers called on the school board to implement a pay scale that gives staff reliable raises. They also said the district doesn’t do enough for its hourly employees, like Anita Blue, a building service helper at Washington High School.

“Twenty-eight years in the district, I make $14.12,” Blue told the board. “All I’m asking for is a decent, living wage."

The school board has the final say on how MPS spends its money. Board members were sympathetic to the concerns raised by school workers. Superintendent Posley said he was too, but the district has a limited amount of money to spend.

“We are 100% committed to all employee groups in this district,” Posley said. “I cannot change the world overnight. I have done everything I possibly can to do just that. And I am open to looking at new ways to solve the problems we have.”

MPS is heavily reliant on state funding, which is hard to predict right now. Wisconsin’s Legislature is in the middle of its budget process. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wants to greatly increase school spending. But Republican lawmakers in control of the legislature are not on board with many of his ideas.

The next public hearing on the MPS proposed budget is scheduled for May 21.

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Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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