Milwaukee Public Schools faces a crisis in both accountability and democracy

Milwaukee School Board member Bruce Thompson:

For Milwaukee Public Schools, the financial crisis that many of us have been warning about is here. As principals get their initial budgets, they are faced with cutting teachers; larger class sizes; the loss of specialty teachers such as those in art, music, physical education; and the lost of librarians. Perversely, schools that have the best student achievement are often the hardest hit, since the middle-class students attracted to these schools bring less aid with them.
While many other school systems (and other government units) are also facing cuts brought on by exploding health care costs and the weak economy, MPS has been particularly hard hit. And much of the MPS pain is self-inflicted. Next year, MPS is facing a 77% fringe benefit rate, meaning that the cost to the district of an employee is 77% more than that employee’s pay. If the unfunded liability for retiree benefits were correctly included, the fringe benefit rate would rise to almost 104%, meaning that the cost to the school district of an employee is more than twice that employee’s pay.
The biggest factor in the exploding benefits cost is the cost of health care. MPS offers two plans, one of which costs MPS twice as much per employee as the other. Yet because MPS pays the full cost of the plans, there is no incentive for employees to pick the less-expensive plan. Employees can retire at age 55 and continue to have MPS pay for their health insurance at the rate it did when they retired. Pensions have an employer and an employee contribution, but MPS pays both parts.