Republican Scott Walker recently stated his support for splitting Milwaukee Public Schools into 10 to 12 smaller districts. Meanwhile the conservative MacIver institute offers district consolidation as a solution to budget problems. The problems of MPS go beyond simply budgetary, but these seemingly contrary ideas are worthy of examination.
A split contradicts Walker’s brown bag guide to government rule number three: “people create jobs, not government.” More school districts need more administration. More administration costs more money. Until now, Walker has made a career of dismantling government, whether it saves taxpayers money or not.
In his pitch Walker claims a split would “wipe out all the liabilities and all the other financial problems.” This sounds like screwing teachers and pension obligations to me, though Walker does not offer much for details. Would enough money be saved to pay nine to eleven more superintendents? School boards? Every other duplicated (possibly times 11) service?
An MPS split would surely result in districts defined by race due to Milwaukee’s notoriously segregated housing patterns. This is also more funding trouble. A district in a poor neighborhood no longer has areas with higher property values to bring revenue up.
Schools consolidate because of declining enrollment. Enrollment in MPS is declining to the point of empty buildings. From the MacIver article;
“Unless the consolidated districts produce a slow, steady increase in enrollment, all you get from consolidation is a very short term fix, then you’re in the same structural deficit.”
Considering the current trend in Milwaukee at least some of these new districts will face declines in enrollment. Then what? Closing a few schools in a huge district is easier than closing one in a small district.
MPS needs a comprehensive solution to the many problems it faces. Scott Walker is not offering a solution. The idea does not square with his slash-and-burn ideology. Maybe that’s a good thing but I’m more confused than ever.