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February 15, 2009

Mayoral control of schools not a cure-all, report says

Alan Borsuk:

Turning over control of a school system to a mayor is no cure-all for problems, and it is "messy, difficult work" to make such changes, according to an analysis of other cities being released today by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

The report and a forum set for Monday night to discuss it amount to firing the starting gun on a crucial debate over whether the mayor or some new body should take over Milwaukee Public Schools, or whether the MPS School Board should be revamped.

Mayor Tom Barrett is signaling that he is more serious than at any point since he was elected in 2004 about the possibility of putting the school system under his control.

"It's time we do have a conversation about what's best for the children of this community," he said.

Barrett did not give a direct answer on whether he wants control of MPS but said, "We have to have significant change in the fiscal management of the district if it's going to survive."

He said he did not want to take over MPS in the absence of other steps to deal with problems that threaten the school system. They include an estimated $2.4 billion in commitments to pay benefits to current and future retirees. Progress on such issues almost surely would take broad, innovative agreements between city, state and union leadership.

Complete Report (PDF):
To what extent has governance reform in large, urban public school districts resulted in better student performance, greater accountability, and more educational innovation? When a school district is governed by a mayor, do the district's fortunes improve?

The answers to these questions, unfortunately, are not clear cut. Large urban districts that have experienced governance reform have often seen several iterations of reform over the course of several years and mixed results. Still, despite the complexity of their reform efforts over the past decade, comparable school districts have much to teach policymakers and educators in Milwaukee. The Public Policy Forum researched several comparable districts and came up with these key findings:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at February 15, 2009 8:46 AM
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