As Milwaukee Public Schools begins its budget process, it’s facing an uncertain future but some reassurance from a recently approved tax referendum. Superintendent Keith Posley wants to spend about half of the referendum revenue on employee salaries and benefits, and use much of the rest to add 229 new positions.
MPS’s total budget is about $1.2 billion. The referendum will increase funding by $57 million next school year, gradually growing to $87 million in 2023.
Under Posley’s proposal, $25 million of the referendum would be spent on salary schedules – which were reinstated by the school board in 2019. The pay scales provide reliable raises for teachers and other staff. The $25 million would enable the district to implement phase three of the salary schedules, for certain administrators.
Posley’s proposal would also increase the number of teachers in early childhood education, music, art, physical education, career/tech, world language, and other areas. About $6 million would pay for additional support staff, like counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses.
The district has not released details about which schools would receive the additional staff. Posley says they would go to buildings with the highest need.
“It will be important to benefit all students while giving priority to those schools and students with the most needs,” Posley said at a school board meeting Thursday. “We need to use an equity lens as we consider possible funding.”
The budget planning is happening amid tremendous uncertainty about the future. The COVID-19 pandemic pretty much guarantees that the next school year will not be normal. And MPS’s funding streams, including state aid, could be in jeopardy as state revenue plummets.
“Things are not looking good,” said MPS Legislative Policy Manager Chris Thiel. “Things are looking bad.”
MPS’s fund balance, or lack thereof, adds to the district’s precarious financial situation. Chief Financial Officer Martha Kreitzman said current budget plans would leave MPS with just $13.2 million in reserves. That’s less than 2% of the district’s school operations fund.
“On an almost billion-dollar [school operations] budget, we should have 10 to 20% in fund balance,” Kreitzman said. “Even if we had the minimum, that would mean $100 million. Currently, we have $13.2 million.”
Kreitzman said it’s important for MPS to look at cost-cutting in future years. The MPS superintendent has not asked for any large reductions in the current budget, although he is pushing to restructure bus routes, which would save between $2 million and $3 million.
MPS will hold its next budget hearing on May 19 over videoconference. Staff say they are working to allow spoken testimony from the public, which has not been an option at MPS’s virtual meetings so far.
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