High School of the Arts gets creative to erase debt

Sarah Carr:

Prospects are looking brighter for the coming school year at cash-strapped Milwaukee High School of the Arts. But long term, the school’s fate will provide a case study for some of the major challenges facing public education today:

  • Can a financially struggling public school find major private donors?
  • Can a school with a distinct – and sometimes, more costly – specialty, such as the arts, preserve that focus at a time of slimmed-down budgets?
  • And if help comes, will it be from the arts community, business leaders, alumni and parents, or from established funding channels? Where does a public school in need of extra money turn first?

Under a new plan, the high school will likely borrow money from a pool of funds from other city schools with budget surpluses. The move will probably allow the school to restore a few teaching positions in the fall. The plan has brought a fresh sense of optimism to the school community. But the High School of the Arts’ situation also underscores the obstacles in store as public schools, in unprecedented numbers, try to dive into the world of private fund raising.