MPS adopts $ 500 million stimulus package, cuts positions as enrollments decline

Before the Milwaukee School Board approves a $ 500 million spending plan For federal stimulus dollars on Thursday, Superintendent Keith Posley said the district had to cut about 120 teaching positions this fall because enrollment had declined in the district.

Because there are 170 vacant positions, no staff will be made redundant, but some will be forced to move to different roles or buildings where teachers are needed most.

The district, which had 74,683 students in 2019, had fewer than 70,000 this fall, Posley said in September. Declining enrollment has resulted in overstaffing in some schools while vacant teaching positions have resulted in understaffing in others.

School board members suggested using the stimulus dollars to avoid cuts or teacher shifts in an effort to preserve staff for years to come, hoping some students will return as vaccines become available. for the youngest.

But Posley said the staff moves were needed as an immediate measure for classrooms without teachers.

“We have students who are here right now who need teachers in front of them, and this is the urgency that we have,” Posley said.

Board members ultimately did not allocate funds to avoid the 120 cuts, although the stimulus package funds human resource positions and other measures to recruit staff and quickly fill remaining vacancies. This includes a prize pool of $ 100,000 to reimburse new employees who incur costs to break contracts with other districts to switch to MPS.

“We hope to see more people ready to do just that,” Posley said.

The plan also invests heavily in upgrading MPS buildings, which are on average 80 years old, as well as technology, tutoring, extracurricular activities, health initiatives and family engagement.

MPS, like districts across the country, receives three rounds of stimulus funds under the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund, known as ESSER. MPS already allocated its first two rounds of funding. The third, $ 504 million funded by the American Rescue Plan, is to be spent within the next three years.

As administrators struggle to attract and keep students and staff, competing with private schools and other wealthier districts, board members hope their plan will give the district a long-standing advantage – or at least one. chance to catch up.

“It sounds like a lot of money, but we’ve been so long overdue that there is so much that we badly need,” said Erika Siemsen, board member.

The final plan unanimously approved on Thursday is largely untouched from what trustees presented on October 5, although council members approved some changes.

Related:From technology to training to therapy, MPS is finalizing its plan to spend $ 500 million in stimulus funds. But has he received enough feedback from the family?

Members moved $ 3 million for a retroactive risk premium for school secretaries who continued to work in buildings during pandemic closures. And they separated $ 13.6 million to give each school control over spending $ 100,000, in a range of options yet to be determined.

The biggest proposed change – using $ 140 million to add air conditioning to the district’s 28 schools with earlier start dates – was rejected by most board members.

Council rejects full air conditioning

School board member Aisha Carr, left, and Darrin Madison, of Urban Underground, deliver cases of water to Andrew Douglas Middle School on August 26, where the temperature in classrooms was high.  Carr's proposal to add air conditioning to schools was rejected by other board members.

After the MPS buildings had to close early and send students home On August 24, there were new calls for air conditioning in schools, especially the 28 schools that start before September.

During the heatwave, teachers reported that their classroom temperature was reaching 90 degrees. Community leaders gathered water bottles and ventilators to help students and staff when schools reopened the next day.

According to Posley, only 17% of MPS school buildings have air conditioning throughout the building. About 63% have it in one or more rooms. And 20% have no air conditioning at all.

At the time, Posley said air conditioning would be a priority for funding the district’s revival. The plan he presented this month did not include a budget item for air conditioning, although district leaders said it was possible that some schools could purchase air conditioning with funds from larger budget items. generals for the improvement of facilities.

Board member Aisha Carr proposed using $ 140 million to add full air conditioning to early-start schools, with estimated costs for each building ranging from $ 500,000 for the Starms Early Childhood Center to 12 , $ 5 million for Pulaski High School.

“It has to be a priority,” Carr said. “When we talk about recruiting and retaining our families, our students, we need to prioritize this element because it will create a learning environment more conducive to academic success and progress.”

School board president Bob Peterson hit back, saying if they add air conditioning to early-start schools, they should also add it to schools that host summer classes, which would be too expensive.

When Carr demand to explore the possibility of a partial AC to cut costs at a committee meeting on Oct. 5, committee chair Megan O’Halloran interrupted discussion and called for a vote. With board member Sequanna Taylor as the only supporter to join Carr, the proposal fell through.

The stimulus package includes around $ 65 million for renovation projects and additions, which administrators say could include installing air conditioning at some sites. Specific projects remain to be determined.

Each school will control $ 100,000

Students listen to their teacher, Tita Torres, review the classroom rules in their Kindergarten-4 class on the first day of school at Rogers Street Academy.

As administrators sought feedback from the community on the spending, the local nonprofit Common Ground suggested splitting $ 50 million among schools so that each could control some of the funding for their own needs.

Board member Marcela Garcia has offered more than $ 15 million for this purpose, providing $ 100,000 to each of the approximately 150 schools in the district. Schools will not have complete discretion over funds but will choose from a “menu” of options, which still needs to be proposed by administrators and approved by the board.

Schools will also have the opportunity to apply for funding from a number of other components set out in the recovery plan. About $ 7 million is set aside to provide mini-grants to schools for new clubs and other extracurricular activities like engineering, the arts, horseback riding or skateboarding.

Schools will also be able to apply for funding for renovations, additions, furniture and other infrastructure issues. Administrators said they would seek ideas from schools soon and bring them to the board in November or December.

Contact Rory Linnane at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @RoryLinnane.

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