As Milwaukee Public Schools leaders write the budget for the next school year, the pressure is high.
Just a couple of months ago, most of the state’s lawmakers voted to dissolve the district. It was saved, for now, by the governor’s veto pen.
Meanwhile, the district has been losing students at an alarming rate to private schools and other competitors, in a city where the population of school-age children is declining on the whole. MPS expects to lose another 1,000 students next year, after losing more than 6,000 the past two years, for a projected enrollment of 67,500 students.
Teachers are also breaking away from the district, or away from the profession altogether, as the expectations become overwhelming and the pay fails to keep pace with other job options.
On Thursday, Superintendent Keith Posley will present a $1.3 billion budget proposal that pledges to maintain staff positions in schools and adds art, music and physical education teachers thanks to the district’s referendum.
The referendum, approved by voters in 2020, allowed MPS to gradually increase its tax revenue above the limit set by the state, which does not grow with inflation. It allowed MPS to add $77 million in tax revenue to its budget in the last two years. That cushion will grow to $84 million for this budget, and cap out at $87 million for future years.
What’s in the budget
Posley’s proposal, self-described as a “status quo” budget due to funding constraints, would largely maintain staffing levels with a net addition of about 29 full-time staff positions, according to budget documents.
Under the plan, the referendum dollars would support 27 new teaching positions next school year: 12 in music, eight in physical education, and seven in art. That’s on top of about 73 positions added to these subject areas in the last two years because of the referendum: 27 in music, 25 in physical education and 21 in art.
The new referendum funds also would support a new agriculture teacher at Vincent High School and two restorative practices coaches.
Whether the district will be able to fill the positions is another issue. About a quarter of the positions funded by the referendum this school year were unfilled, the district reported.
MPS has struggled to fill not only teaching positions but also aides and workers in food services and other building services. Posley’s budget proposal includes an expected savings of over $58 million from vacancies, based on this year’s vacancy rate. The previous year’s vacancy offset was about $20 million.
Looking to better recruit and retain employees, the school board already approved a wage increase that will be part of this budget. The inflationary raise, 4.7%, applies to all district employees.
School board members will have the opportunity in the coming weeks to suggest amendments to the budget.
What about the federal COVID funds?
The $1.3 billion budget does not include the roughly $780 million in federal COVID relief funds that have flowed to MPS. Those dollars were counted in previous budgets, though the district can continue spending them until September 2024.
School board members have already approved plans for those dollars in previous meetings.
The funds are earmarked to support about 110 staff positions in the district in the next school year, according to budget documents, including a force of 24 staff meant to support classroom teachers in math and literacy.
How to learn more and weigh in
Posley will present his proposal at a school board committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 5.
While members of the public cannot attend in person due COVID precautions, meetings are streamed on the MPS YouTube channel. To speak during the meeting, register by 3 p.m. Thursday online or by calling 414-475-8200.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. May 17.
Find the district’s budget documents online at mpsmke.com/budget.