Budget plan would boost art, music, physical education; support specialty schools, HS redesign

MILWAUKEE – Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton released a proposed 2012-13 budget Thursday that would increase opportunities for Arts, Music and Physical Education; recognize and support the higher program costs of specialty schools; and allocate money to begin the process of redesigning high schools.

The proposal is not without significant pain as the district prepares for its second school year with dramatically lower state funding. With MPS facing higher costs in 2012-13 than in 2011-12 including contractual salary increases for teachers, largely flat revenues and a 1% projected decline in enrollment, the budget plan would cut spending by $19.7 million.

Proposed cuts to departments at Central Services would eliminate 126.5 positions and lessen some of the pain felt in classrooms. Classroom teaching positions would be reduced by 190.72, though 103.8 of the positions are tied to the closure of schools. Total MPS staff would be 400.75 positions smaller than in the current 2011-12 school year. The elimination of positions does not necessarily require layoffs. Currently, vacancies, including those attributed to retirements, are expected to exceed position reductions. Layoffs could still occur where there is a surplus of teachers qualified in a certain subject. Those details are not expected to be known until June.

“We’ve taken many steps to ensure our financial stability as a district, but that doesn’t mean the financial pressure is off,” Superintendent Gregory Thornton said, referring to steps such as modest employee benefit changes, re-bidding of transportation contracts and moving toward a central kitchen to efficiently serve healthy meals.

“In the face that pressure, we have to focus all of our attention on the number one priority: improving student achievement,” Dr. Thornton said. “We must provide each one of our students equal access to a great education and this budget continues us down that path.”

To ensure equal access, the proposal sets a new standard for the number of Art, Music and Physical Education specialists in schools. Those specialists would be paid for by Central Services – not in individual school budgets. The proposal also calls for centrally paying for all required special education staff, so that schools have the resources they need to serve students with special needs.

The proposed cut at Central Services is higher than what the district initially proposed. After hearing concerns from Board members, parents, community members and school leaders, the Superintendent proposed the further cut to provide class size relief for schools throughout the district and to maintain the integrity of specialty programs including arts, International Baccalaureate, language immersion and Montessori schools. More than 86 cents of every dollar in the district’s school operations fund goes to paying for the staff and supplies directly used to teach children. Fewer than 8 cents of that dollar pay for the departments at Central Services that support classrooms and the remaining 6 cents pay for necessary operations expenses such as utilities, insurance, technology licenses and debt repayment.

Funding for beginning the redesign of high schools is also included in the proposed budget, including funds to introduce the College Board’s SpringBoard program at five schools to better prepare students for college. High school redesign efforts also include the expansion of the popular MacDowell Montessori program to serve students through grade 12 next year and planning for the expansion of Golda Meir into a K-12 school in the future.

Total spending in the proposed budget – which includes the school operations fund, the construction fund, the categorical fund for grants and the extension fund for Milwaukee Recreation and other programs – is $1,168,453,210, down 1.7% from 1,188,160,523 in the current 2011-12 school year. You can see the full budget by visiting www.milwaukee.k12.wi.us and clicking on ‘Building the Budget.’

The Board’s Strategic Planning and Budget committee is set to hear public input in early May and a public hearing on the budget before the full Board is set for May 17. The board is expected to vote on the budget in June.