Della Wells, an artist and community activist, writes that a Republican plan to take over Milwaukee’s failing schools sidesteps Milwaukee residents and their elected officials.
In 1998 when Gov. Tommy Thompson proposed a state takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), Milwaukee school board member Leon Todd called the takeover plan “plantation politics.” Todd’s stinging assessment indicated that the only reason Thompson proposed the plan was that Milwaukee had a large African- American population so taking over the public schools would be an easy sell to Wisconsinites.
If Thompson’s proposal had been approved, the state would essentially become MPS’s overseer, just like the overseers hired during slavery to maintain control of the slaves.
Seventeen years later, Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga, both Republicans, have proposed a plan to take over MPS’s failing schools, but this time the schools would be under Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. Neither Darling nor Kooyenga live in the City of Milwaukee, nor were they elected by the residents of Milwaukee. They are attempting to sidestep Milwaukee residents and their elected officials.
Quite frankly, I feel the only reason Darling and Kooyenga feel they can get away with their proposal is because most of the failing schools are in poor and African- American communities. This is hypocrisy because there are failing schools in other districts in Wisconsin, but their proposal does not include those schools. I believe this is because those schools are in predominately white districts.
State Sen. Lena Taylor exposed this hypocrisy when she suggested the same proposal be implemented in other districts where there are failing schools. Interestingly, the same state lawmakers who supported this plan for Milwaukee did not support the same plan in their own districts.
Darling and Kooyenga’s proposal is akin to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s state takeover of Detroit. I believe their goal to privatize MPS Schools is to sell Milwaukee education to the highest bidder. The move would weaken local control of Milwaukee’s public schools, dilute the impact of Milwaukee votes on pertinent issues and weaken the teachers’ union. As far as I know, neither Darling nor Kooyenga have met with any of the residents, parents, students or teachers at the affected schools.
Since Darling and Kooyenga appointed themselves to fix MPS and ignore input from Milwaukee lawmakers, residents and teachers, perhaps Milwaukee residents should circulate and sign a recall petition in River Hills and Brookfield to send a message that we are unhappy with their leadership on this issue. Oh wait, we Milwaukeeans can’t. We don’t live in their districts.
“Plantation politics” is alive in Wisconsin, whether it takes the form of voter ID, food stamp reform, weakening unions or the takeover of MPS. It is not what Milwaukee or Wisconsin needs to address their problems.