Approved budget uses health care savings from 2010 contracts to lessen school position cuts

MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Board of School Directors passed a 2012-13 Milwaukee Public Schools budget Thursday night that begins to ensure equal access to high-quality education for all children, reinforces the commitment to art/music/physical education, boosts funding for costlier specialty schools, starts down the path of high school reform, expands the successful use of Project Lead the Way and utilizes better-than-anticipated contractual health care savings to provide class size relief.

“These health care savings are a direct result of our 2010 contract negotiations that are now putting $20 million back into our school system to provide critical class size relief,” Superintendent Gregory Thornton said. “We’re not where we need to be but we’re making a significant down payment.”

Total spending in the budget is roughly $19 million lower than the current 2011-12 budget. The original projection of 400 fewer positions in 2012-13 than in 2011-12 is now likely to be significantly reduced due to the health care savings. Position reductions do not directly translate into layoffs; the elimination of vacant positions and retirements are expected to keep layoffs to a minimum. Further detail is expected in July.

The health care savings come from the strong fiscal stewardship that led to the district’s 2010 contract settlements. The settlements include employee premium contributions and allowed the district to change to a new health plan administrator with lower provider costs. Lower prescription drug costs were also negotiated under new provider arrangements.

Approximately $10 million identified in savings from the current 2011-12 school year will include money to restore staff cuts for district schools and purchase critically needed supplies. As many as 75 full-time teaching positions could be restored. If schools opt to bring educational assistants back, the total number of restored positions could be higher.

On top of the $10 million in savings from 2011-12, the district is expected to save another $10 million in benefit costs for the upcoming 2012-13 school year. Money schools would have spent on benefits can be reallocated to other critical needs, including staff and supplies.

The budget also ensures that every school will have access to art, music or physical education specialists. Schools that have demonstrated the ability to provide high-quality specialty subjects in the current school year will have more flexibility.

High-school reform efforts in the budget include expansion of the successful MacDowell Montessori School to serve high-school grades, a year to plan for the eventual addition of high school grades at top-performing Golda Meir School and the introduction of the College Board’s SpringBoard pre-college program at as many as five MPS schools.

The budget also includes funding to expand MPS’ successful use of Project Lead the Way, a highly-regarded science, technology, engineering and math education program, in to four new schools. Milwaukee Public Schools has the largest cluster of students connected to the program in the country. The district’s approximately 5,500 students in 28 schools currently using Project Lead the Way, roughly 85% of whom are students of color, dramatically outperform district average test scores.

Specialty schools
– including arts, language immersion, Montessori and International Baccalaureate schools – receive additional funding for the higher costs of their programs under the 2012-13 budget.

It also pays for all required special education staff centrally so schools have the resources needed to best serve students with special needs.