New Governance Model for the Milwaukee Public Schools?

Alan Borsuk

A recovery school district for low-performing schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools system? The news that a group of civic leaders convened last week at the initiative of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce to consider such an idea gave me an instant trip to the land of MPS Structural Reform Ideas Past.
Start with the 1970s, when then-State Rep. Dennis Conta and others proposed redoing school districts in the Milwaukee area so there would be a small number of districts shaped like slices of pie, each including parts of the central city and parts of the suburbs. Caused a big stir, but, of course, it didn’t happen. (I wonder what would have resulted if it had come to pass.)
Jump to the late 1990s: Then-Gov. Tommy Thompson announced he was setting several goals for Milwaukee Public Schools, including test score and attendance improvement, and if they weren’t met, he was going to have the state take over MPS. My assumption is that he thought about it a little more, asking himself, why would I want to take on that mountainous headache? MPS, of course, didn’t meet the goals, but Thompson didn’t pursue the idea.
In 2009, then-Gov. Jim Doyle said he wanted to put MPS under the control of a board appointed by the mayor of Milwaukee. Mayor Tom Barrett kind of seemed to go along. But Doyle and Barrett didn’t do a good job of making the case, community opposition was effective and the idea came to nothing.
In 2010, then-candidate for governor Scott Walker said he thought MPS should be broken up into a set of smaller districts the size of, oh, say, Wauwatosa, where his kids went to school. Never heard any more about that idea, perhaps because Walker realized it was not doable.