MPS budget cuts yield school closures, mergers

MPS prepares to close and merge several area schools, much like Washington High School at 2525 N. Sherman Boulevard. Photo via Google Images

In the face of a predicted $74 million revenue loss in the coming year, Milwaukee Public Schools has started making recommendations for closings, relocations and mergers of several area schools.

Beginning in early March, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors started meeting to discuss and vote on what schools will be closed or merged for the 2011-’12 school year. The board has also been discussing several opportunities for new charter schools.

MPS is under financial pressure because of state budget cuts that will reduce spending for public schools, among other financial strains.

“We have taken an immense hit from cuts made to the state budget,” said Roseann St. Aubin, director of communications for MPS.

She added that a decrease in federal stimulus money along with budget cuts within the school district have also contributed to the revenue loss.

The first round of debate resulted in the school board recommending the closing of an elementary and K-8 school and the merging of about seven other schools.

A second round of discussion, occurring on March 31, ended with the decision to close or merge another seven schools as well as proposals for several new charter schools in the area.

The board recommended turning North Division High School Complex into a charter school, as well as opening another K-8 charter school.

The third and most recent discussion about closings and mergers occurred last week and handled a smaller group of schools than previous discussions. It ended with the closure of two high schools and merger of another two K-8 schools.

Another reason behind the mergers and closings is excess capacity within the school district. St. Aubin said MPS has seen a decrease in enrollment and now has more building capacity than students.

“The reasons for closing are always to get the district to the right size and getting kids a better education,” she said. “These schools are under-enrolled or under-performing, and the culture is keeping kids from succeeding.”

While closing and merging schools will save MPS millions of dollars in the upcoming years, concerns have been raised about whether or not school closings will negatively affect students and teachers working in the school district.

“In terms of stability, school is often a mainstay in these kids’ lives,” said William Harvill, an English teacher at Genesis High School, which is set to close after this school year because of under-performance. “Taking away that stability doesn’t help in any respects. It leads to erratic behavior from students.”

Harvill also said students who live in the areas surrounding the school will be affected most.

“Transportation for MPS is bad, and those within a two-mile radius have to walk to school,” he said. “This discourages them from going and leads to dropouts and truancy.”

Kathelyne Dye-Gallagher, principal of Genesis High School, said relationships between schools in the district may be affected by the closures.

“As a principal, I’m mostly concerned about partnerships that we have with other schools, and whether or not those will be negatively affected,” she said.

While the future may seem questionable for MPS, Harvill expressed hope for the district in years to come.

“I truly believe that there is hope for restoring MPS if we find solutions to the problems instead of just acknowledging the problems,” he said.