The future of four Milwaukee charter schools is a little more certain after a school board decision Thursday night.
The MPS board voted 5-2 to extend its contract with Carmen Schools of Science and Technology, a local charter network. It serves 1,700 mostly low-income students.
Carmen’s two-year contract extension comes with caveats, following significant controversy.
At Thursday’s school board meeting, the room was packed with students and staff from Carmen’s four middle and high schools. The charter schools operate under the MPS umbrella, but they are privately run and staffed by non-district employees.
The school board spent the most time discussing the Carmen school that shares a building with Pulaski High School.
Some Pulaski staff and the teachers’ union say Pulaski is treated unfairly and that Carmen takes up more space than it should. School board member Larry Miller objected to renewing Carmen’s contract before those issues are resolved.
“I’m not willing to support a contract until I know that there’s going to be an equity policy and agreement that the two schools are going to come together and resolve this," Miller said. "This is about students … this is about the needs of the students in that building.”
Miller wasn’t the only board member concerned about the problems at Pulaski. So, the board added some requirements to Carmen’s contract.
They shortened it from three years to two, with annual reviews at the school board level. The board also directed Superintendent Keith Posley to act quickly to address the equity concerns.
Miller and Annie Woodward were the only "no" votes against that deal.
Board member Tony Baez said the Carmen debate was causing division in Milwaukee’s Latino community. Three of Carmen’s schools have predominately Latino student bodies.
Baez said the MPS board has a responsibility to clarify its charter school strategy to try to ease the conflict.
“It seems that the situation that we’re in right now has a certain urgency to it,” Baez said. “And that discussion has to happen now. It can’t continue to be postponed.”
MPS contracts with 17 independent charter schools. Critics, including the Milwaukee teacher’s union, argue that the schools divert resources and students from traditional public schools.
The board also approved building leases for three Carmen schools in MPS facilities. The lease terms were shortened to two years to match the amended contract.