The Milwaukee School Board on Tuesday night will face a serving of a stew with many of the ingredients that make life complicated in Milwaukee Public Schools. How it decides what parts to eat or not eat will say a lot about the prospects for change in the system.
The board will take up a multi-part proposal from north side member Michael Bonds to realign a cluster of schools in the vicinity of W. Hampton and W. Silver Spring avenues from N. Green Bay Ave. to N. 35th St.
Included in the proposals are closing Carleton School, converting McNair Academy to a middle school with an emphasis on arts and science, and attempting for the first time to provide short-distance bus service to nearby schools as an alternative to busing to distant parts of town. For families living in the affected area, busing options to schools elsewhere would be restricted as a way of encouraging enrollment in the local schools.
Bonds’ proposal is one of the boldest attempts in years to reduce busing and invigorate the idea of attending schools near home. It comes after the board agreed in principle to make major cuts in busing – a stand that has not been translated into action yet.
But two School Board committee meetings last week brought out how many factors are at play. Among them:
Busing: Do people put their kids on buses to distant schools because they want to or because they don’t have much choice? Milwaukee has one of the most expansive busing policies in the country. The $102 million neighborhood school plan in recent years failed to persuade parents to take their kids off buses. Is anything different now?
K-8 vs. middle schools: Middle schools have been in sharp decline in MPS as schools offering kindergarten through eighth grade programs have increased rapidly. Is that because parents really want K-8s or because they haven’t been given quality choices in middle schools? The prevailing thinking in MPS has been that K-8s are popular, but there appears to be a growing counter-movement, with Bonds as a leading voice for middle schools.