Healthcare benefits could lead to savings in MPS budget

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MILWAUKEE -- The  Milwaukee Public Schools board is expected to take action on the 2013 budget during a budget hearing scheduled for Thursday night, June 7th.

Ahead of Thursday night's budget meeting, the Milwaukee Public School District said they are seeing unexpected savings, coming from healthcare benefits. The savings will mean fewer cuts to teaching positions.

The Milwaukee Public School District learned Thursday there will be about $10 million in healthcare savings as part of the contract teachers signed back in 2010.

That means as many as 75 teaching positions will not have to be cut. The district had previously said they would need to close eight schools and cut 400 positions as part of the 2012-2013 budget plan.

"It costs less to provide healthcare than we originally expected," MPS Spokesman Tony Tagliavia said.

Tagliavia says the savings will go right back into the classroom, and the savings plus retirements could mean no teacher layoffs at all.

"Between empty positions that aren't filled and retirements, if you look at the raw numbers, we anticipate we would have more openings than positions reduced," Tagliavia said.

The district says they'll add money in areas like art, music and physical education, but the budget also gives specialty schools like Spanish Immersion, that are performing well, some more flexibility when it comes to how they use the money.

"If they lose people in the school who speak the language, they lose their identity and that was their primary concern. The superintendent listened to that," MPS Board Member Terry Falk said.

Overall, MPS officials acknowledged a very tight and difficult budget, but say the district and the community are starting to get the idea that they all sink or swim together, and that's giving many people in the district a lot of hope.

"People are talking more about the Milwaukee Public School system as a whole, how we can improve the district. It used to be people would come to the school board and talk about only their school," Falk said.

Our priority is to make sure every student has equal access to a great education," Tagliavia said.

The Milwaukee School Board will vote on the 2012-2013 budget Thursday night, and the meeting begins at 7:00 p.m.

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