Dr. Keith Posley, an honorable man who served the district he loved as best as he knew how, resigned [on June 4] during a closed session of the Milwaukee School Board.

This was after a raucous and lengthy meeting, which I attended, in which understandable frustration led to palpable anger and to that which anger always brings in its wake: a certain blindness and lack of focus.

Lost in that anger was the fact that the Board moved to hear the public commentary on the financial mismanagement that led to Dr. Posley’s “voluntary” resignation together with the public commentary on the business-as-usual 2024/2025 MPS budget.

Lost in that anger was the fact that this meant there was next to zero discussion of the details of that budget by the public, despite the fact that the Board advertised this as an opportunity for the public to have their voices heard on this important matter.

Lost in that anger was the critical fact that the early April passage of the $252 million MPS referendum in no way obligates the Board to raise the levy $140 million this year; it merely allows them to do so. It is entirely within their purview not to raise the levy and thus, impose an additional burden on the taxpayers they, ostensibly, serve.

(Of course, not raising the levy would bring with it the need for cuts, cuts that many – including myself – might regard as grievous. But more on that at another time.)

Lost in that anger – or maybe not quite! – was that Dr. Posley’s resignation puts the proverbial Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

The problems that led to his resignation are deep and systemic. A lack of oversight by the elected school board is a starting point, but it is only that.

The electorate’s disengagement from and understandable ignorance of the byzantine workings of the MPS bureaucracy leads to elections in which only a tiny but vocal minority elect representatives on that board for the frustrated masses. Their self-interest, I fear, does not always coincide with that of the MPS children and their parents/caregivers.

The board members themselves are poorly compensated for what might well be the most thankless job in local governance. They, too, are good people who are trying to do the right thing. But as this latest fiasco makes clear: they are in over their heads.

A change in governance should not be the first reaction to the resulting crisis. But it cannot be taken off the table either by sober-minded individuals looking for real and lasting reform.

A takeover orchestrated by legislators who know next to nothing about the needs of the city and our children is not the solution either. If only there were a local leader who knew his city and its needs, and whose own stated aims coincided with those of a healthy and well-functioning school district that did not lurch from crisis to crisis. Maybe he could play a useful role in pushing forward much-needed and long-delayed reform?

Wait. I have heard of someone like that.

The Mayor of Milwaukee has stated a laudable, if lofty, goal: to reach one million residents in the City. (By a date yet to be specified, conveniently. You see, goals are easier to reach if one can pick up and move them.)

But there is no way on God’s green earth that this goal can be achieved without addressing the two reasons that people look to the burbs rather than to our fair city when choosing where to (continue to) live:


(Or, better yet, perceptions relating to crime and schools.)

Given, then, that a well-functioning school system is needed for the Mayor to have a chance of reaching his population goal, perhaps he would be interested in taking on the formidable task of spearheading an effort to reform and restore MPS. He clearly has a mandate from the electorate, having just been re-elected two months ago by a margin that would make most politicians swoon.

I take it that his current silence on this issue is considered, but temporary. I certainly hope so. And I don’t pretend to be able to dictate to him such a massive and controversial undertaking as taking the lead on calling for major but thoughtful reform of the Milwaukee Public School System.

But I would encourage him to do on this issue what an overwhelming portion of the people elected him to do: lead.

Now is not the time for business as usual.

Alderman Spiker later held a press conference at City Hall on June 5 to further outline actions he felt the MPS Board needed to take, regarding the 2024/25 budget. In conjunction with his remarks, he released an additional call to action.

The taxpayer is about to get snookered.

The MPS 2024/25 budget is about to be voted on without any meaningful input from the public.

In a move as tactically brilliant as it was dishonest, the School Board on Monday moved to take up public comment on the 2024/2025 budget at the same time as it heard public comment on the fiasco involving MPS’s missing financial reports.

When, predictably, almost the entirety of the ensuing raucous three-hour meeting devolved into cries for the Superintendent’s head, I am sure that those who were not interested in hearing from the public about the Budget had to stifle a chuckle. The suckers (including me!) bought it.

There was no discussion of the fact that the $252 million referendum approved just two months ago merely authorizes the Board to raise the levy – and, thus, your tax bill – by $140 million this year (and additional amounts later). It does not – let me repeat – it does NOT require the Board to raise it this much…or at all for that matter.

There was no discussion of the fact that the public might now want MPS to get its financial house in order before building an addition onto it with the help of their hard-earned tax dollars.

There was no discussion of the fact that after a massive infusion of cash from the taxpayer in the form of an $87 million referendum in 2020, three-quarters of a billion dollars in ESSER funds during COVID, and now another $252 million referendum – I say, there was no discussion of the fact that maybe money alone isn’t the answer here. That true and lasting change may require fundamental structural reform.

Well, what do we do about it? This.

“I call on the Honorable Marva Herndon, President of the Milwaukee Public School’s Board of Directors, to immediately call a special hearing of the full board to hear one agenda item and one only:

A Public Hearing on the 2024-2025 Superintendent’s Proposed Budget”

This would allow the public to do something that they were not afforded the courtesy to do on Monday: weigh in on the 2024/25 budget.

This ask seems so anodyne that I can’t imagine the degree of denial and intransigence that would move one to deny it.

But just in case, if you wouldn’t mind calling your school board director (including your city-wide one) at 414-475-8284, that should help the matter along.

Who is your school board director? Well, that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? You can find out by going to this not-at-all-designed-to-prevent-you-from-finding-them URL:


That is my first ask, and I would ask the electorate to assist me in augmenting its volume.

My second ask is one where some folks will part ways with me. That’s O.K. We can disagree about some things while agreeing about others. Here it is:

“I also call on the Board to propose and pass a budget amendment that would lessen the blow to the MPS taxpayer. I call on members to propose a 25% – that’s 25 cents on the dollar – decrease in the (former) superintendent’s proposal to increase the tax levy by the $140 million allowed (but not required).

Basically, I call on members not to increase taxes as much as they are allowed to, in light of the fact that much of the electorate was duped into thinking that MPS had their financial house in order when it is clear to us now, after the fact, that they do not.

But I also propose the members pay for this $35 million tax cut without laying off teachers or any front-line staff or diminishing their unfilled positions.

Instead, I propose that they pay for it by cutting Central Administration, the same Central Administration that failed so miserably to keep the books tight for who-knows-how-long and who also failed to tell the People’s elected representatives on the Board about it! (Though it must be admitted, the Board didn’t dig nearly deep enough here.)

The status quo is a status of stagnancy at MPS. I call on residents to attend this hearing and make their voices heard about how they want their hard-earned tax dollars spent…and how many of those tax dollars they are prepared – in the light of day where MPS’s financial disarray is now apparent – to watch leave their wallet.

The Wisconsin education department said on June 6 that it was withholding nearly $17 million in aid to Milwaukee Public Schools because the district has yet to submit financial reports that were due nine months ago.

The state Department of Public Instruction had warned that the money would be suspended and stressed in a statement on June 6 that it was working “deeply and actively” with the district so the payment could be made later this month.

The aid payment suspension comes just two days after the district’s superintendent resigned following a contentious school board meeting. The district’s comptroller also said he was fired on June 4.

In addition to the state aid payment being on hold, millions of dollars in federal funding is being withheld from the district’s Head Start program after officials discovered abuse and lack of supervision in Milwaukee Public Schools programs.

Federal officials cited “deficiencies,” such as failure to supervise students in the early education and nutrition program for low-income children.

The district received $14 million from the federal Head Start program in the most recent school year, according to district budget materials.

Scott Spiker

Jazmine Thomas and Sensible Photo (via Shutterstock)