The Milwaukee Public Schools’ Looming Fiscal Crackup

Mike Ford:

Mavis Roesch began teaching in the St. Louis Public Schools in 1967. Soon after, she moved to Milwaukee, teaching first at a private high school and then in the Milwaukee Public Schools. For the past 15 years, Roesch has taught at Rufus King High School, recently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top 200 high schools in the country.
“I care about young people and their future and the future of our city,” Roesch says with passion. “I believe that I make a difference in my students’ lives. I work to inspire them to do things they thought they couldn’t do. I believe that all children can learn — maybe in different ways and on different days, but I want to be there when it happens.”
And then Roesch, who runs King’s International Baccalaureate program, adds something that is already evident in her self-declared mission: “I do not work for a paycheck or benefits.”
Clearly, teachers like Roesch are not what ails MPS. Dedicated professionals like her are the reasons for academic success stories like Rufus King. Yet, paradoxically, she is soon to join the ranks of those who are at the root of MPS’ looming fiscal crack-up: Retirees.
By 2022, the cost of MPS pensions and health benefits will absorb just more than 50 percent of the district’s state aid and property tax, up from one-third in 2012. More to the point, less than half of MPS’ state aid and local tax revenue will be available for teacher salaries, classroom materials, new technology and other educational needs. There is little MPS can do to stem this decline in discretionary spending. As shown on the following chart, it could be a death knell for the district.