by Rebecca Acosta
On April 7th, the polls were open amid a pandemic; only 5 out of the 180 Milwaukee polls were open, about 400,000 state residents voted in person, and another 1, 239,611 requested absentee ballots, yet only 113,849 absentee ballots were returned. Despite voters having to choose between their vote or health, Milwaukee voters made their voices heard: YES for MPS as 78% of voters voted YES for the MPS referendum asking for 87 million dollars.
A couple weeks later, MPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Posley established the MPS budget for the 2020-2021 school year. The budget is set to increase academic achievement and accountability, improve district and school culture, develop staff, ensure fiscal responsibility and transparency, and strengthen communication and collaboration. Furthermore, the budget includes 35 teachers to help reduce class size, 64 mental health professionals, four restorative practice coaches, eight art teachers this year, two paraprofessionals, and professional development around teaching.
Gianmarco Katz, an 11th grade MPS student, was an active supporter for the YES for MPS campaign. Katz has collaborated with Voces de la frontera to promote the referendum. He shares that he has “canvassed and phone-banked for the referendum for 40 hours, had a meeting with the regional superintendent about the allocation of funds. I also have been fortunate enough to help lead efforts along with other great activists from around MPS, in a letter to the superintendent focused on prioritization of funding.” Katz and other MPS students have drafted a letter for Dr. Posley. “Our hope with this letter is that it provides the central office with the students' perspective on how to ensure equability throughout our district,” Katz says.
Katz goes on to explain “As a Reagan student, I am very fortunate to have access to full time electives such as: art, choir, band, orchestra, and language. I am also very fortunate to have four assistant administrators and four secretaries. However, other schools that serve disenfranchised populations receive less funding solely based on their student body. This algorithm is not equitable and caters to more fortunate, well-equipped schools like Reagan.”
Other schools across MPS have not been so fortunate. Teachers have had to teach classes they are not qualified for, classrooms have windows with broken screens, and students are learning by cover-less textbooks. Katherine Villanuevaa, a 10th grade student at Milwaukee School of Languages (MSL), says “one thing MSL doesn't have is a full-time librarian. Having one full time will allow us access to books any day of the week whether it’s a book required for a class or one we want to read for our own pleasure.” Z
To ensure schools like MSL get funded, the letter proposes MPS with a set of areas of what students needs’ need to be addressed, including child literacy, reading comprehension, the math proficiency gap, nutrition, retaining qualified teachers, staffing, hiring paras, full time electives, and outdated educational tools.
MPS students should be receiving the best education in the best learning environment. For students who see a problem within the educational climate, talk to your school's principal or union leader because it takes student voices like Gian to assure that all MPS students are granted the best education. Katz says “We believe that this letter combined with pressure and people voicing themselves, we can affect how funds are allocated.” It is important that students express their opinions because “Students see the challenges the district and it’s students face everyday. There is no other population of people better equipped to speak on the disparities in our district.”
Students or parents who want their voices heard can share their concerns or comments on Tuesday, May 19th at the MPS Board meeting at 5:30pm. Testimonies, which will be only two minutes long, will be taken live during the meeting. Those who want to speak to the Committee must register by 3:00 P.M. on May 19, 2020. To register to participate by dial-in, call 414-475-8200 and follow the instructions; to register to participate via email, visit the Broadcast page of the MPS website to send an email request: https://mps.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/…/School-Board/Boardcast.htm; to submit comments to the Office of Board Governance by mail, address to 5225 W. Vliet Street, Milwaukee, 53221; by email, to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax, to 414-475-8071. Public comments received before 3:00 P.M. on May 19, 2020, will be forwarded to the Committee for its consideration.
The referendum has passed but it is up to the community to ensure they get what they voted for. Katz notes, “the fight is not over to guarantee equitable education in our city. We need constant participation and support. For anyone reading this that has not been a participant up to this point. I implore you to get involved as this is not only fighting for you, but your teachers, relatives, and your neighbors.”