Members of the MPS school board recently decided they deserved their share of the 4.7% pay raise they recently awarded all other district employees at the behest of the teacher’s union.
Even before last week’s pay raise, Milwaukee school board members earned $10,000 more per year than any other school district in the state – and more than three times the average of the state’s five largest districts. In comparison, last year Kenosha voters actually cut the pay of their school board to a flat $100 per board meeting.
In voting to raise their own pay, one school board member claimed, “… this is a full-time-plus job, because of all the research that has to be done.”
School board service is certainly more than the 3 to 5 official meetings per month. But all that still leaves quite a lot of “research” time before board members reach a 40-hour workweek.
And while last year’s marathon late-night sessions spent stubbornly refusing to reopen MPS schools for in-person learning were undoubtedly taxing – maybe we should compare it to the experience of MPS working parents who did their jobs and proctored online school. Tell me again, who exactly was working “full-time-plus” for MPS over the past two years?
If the School Board really is doing “full-time-plus” work – well, the results suggest the extra time isn’t paying off as our community’s kids aren’t learning, families are fleeing, and the district’s finances are in a doom loop hurdling toward insolvency:
- Just 3% – I wish this was a typo – of all students in MPS-run schools were on grade level in math last year. And lest you think this is just about that difficult “new” math they’re teaching in school these days, the district’s reading results – 6% on grade level – aren’t much better.
- The total district enrollment has declined by more than 3,000 students in each of the last two years, and by nearly 40,000 students since 2000.
- The district’s $1.3 billion proposed 2022-23 budget released this week shows just how dire the financial picture is, with annual structural budget gaps starting at $40-60 million next year and growing wider as one-time COVID funds are exhausted. In total, the cumulative five-year projected deficit exceeds $500 million.
For the last decade, the standard response to these challenges has been to lament either the (admittedly unfair) impact of state revenue limits, or the (admittedly unfair) funding cuts that accompanied Act 10 during the Scott Walker years.
But here too the story has changed: Last year, for the first time in a decade, MPS per-pupil funding from state and local sources actually exceeded the state average.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s average property tax rates increased 18.6 percent last year, thanks almost entirely to the $87 million MPS referendum passed in April 2020. That’s the second-highest spike among large US metros, behind only booming Nashville. Effective property tax rates in Milwaukee are now more than 10 percent higher than Cook County (Chicago), IL – the notorious bastion of tax waste, governmental incompetence and corruption.
Remind me: Just what are city taxpayers – not to mention MPS students and families – actually receiving while the school board and teacher union are working hand-in-glove to raise everyone’s taxes to fund their own pay increases?
Aisha Carr was the only school board member courageous enough to vote against the raise, and she had it exactly right, saying, “I don’t see any justifiable reason to provide a raise for us, because that is an ultimate reflection of our performance evaluation, and we owe it to taxpayers to give them a return on their investment. And we haven’t. … Until we improve the conditions of our district, I don’t think we’re deserving.”
She couldn’t have said it better.
Perhaps the school board should revisit its salary study, and consider tying their pay to the district’s student achievement, enrollment, and financial health. You know – like any succeeding enterprise.
Or they may use some of their “research” time to engage in a good faith discussion about whether the current system of board governance should survive at all given its ineffectiveness.
Regardless, in the interim, many of us City of Milwaukee residents would cheer if the board adopted the very first option on their salary study list: The total elimination of board salaries ($0).
(Dan Adams is a Milwaukee criminal defense attorney. He appears frequently in state media as a legal and political analyst. He can be contacted at Dan@DefenseWisconsin.com)