Do Milwaukee’s Public Schools Spend Too Much

Bruce Murphy:

That was certainly the suggestion of a new Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance study, which was done for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. The latter’s leader, Tim Sheehy, has been a frequent critic of local governments for paying benefits he believes are too high. In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article covering the study, Sheehy was quoted as declaring that the district needed to establish control over its “staffing, pension and benefit costs.”
Blogger Jay Bullock has suggested that the report, the JS story by Alan Borsuk, and an earlier JS story written by me in 2003, were all deliberately timed to pressure the teacher’s union to accept lower salaries and benefits. I doubt that Borsuk cares to be classed with me (he’s probably wearing a bag over his head), and I’m not convinced he was out to get the union. But his story, as well as Bullock’s blog, seemed to miss some of the forest for the trees. So who and what should we believe?
For starters, MPS is spending less per pupil than the Madison system and an amount similar to what other urban districts in Wisconsin spend. But it’s doing that with less-experienced teachers: Milwaukee teachers average 10 years of experience versus 15 years statewide. Since teachers typically get an automatic “step increase” for every year of service, you need to hold the level of experience constant and then measure. That measurement shows MPS teachers are getting 38 percent more than the statewide average in total compensation, the report found.