Key element of Milwaukee schools’ state-mandated turnaround plan delayed as talks break down

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MILWAUKEE -- A key element of the state-mandated turnaround plan for failing Milwaukee public schools faces a delay because the parties involved can't decide when to meet to discuss their differences.

Chris Abele

Chris Abele

There will be no decision made on Wednesday about which schools will move into the so-called "opportunity schools" district, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele's office told FOX6 on Monday, May 23. Wednesday had been the day to decide that, according to a timeline published on the program's website.

That assumed there would be an agreement with Milwaukee Public Schools over the plan, said Melissa Baldauff, Abele's spokeswoman. The proposal would shift control of one failing school to an appointed commissioner next year -- probably more in the future.

"Our hope is to pick the school with MPS," Abele said last week. "That's something MPS had an interest in early on."

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MPS officials haven't responded to requests for a meeting with Abele and Means, Baldauff said.

In a letter sent to MPS officials May 18 and provided to FOX6 News, Abele and opportunity schools commissioner Demond Means asked for a meeting with Driver and Sain over the proposal.

"(The opportunity schools district) is prepared to delay naming the schools if there is indication that our entities are
making progress," Means wrote in the letter. "We believe it would be a positive sign if our entities could draft a joint
statement communicating that we are committed to working together."

No joint statement has been made public.

Mark Sain

Mark Sain

When asked whether Superintendent Darienne Driver and school board President Mark Sain wanted to meet with Abele and Means, a district spokesman didn't directly address the question.

"Our work right now is to continue to assess whether this proposal is in the best interests of our students and that is what we are doing," said Tony Tagliavia, the district spokesman, in an emailed statement.

In an interview on Sunday, Sain said directors do have a meeting this week with lawyers to discuss their concerns about Abele's proposal.

"It's saying just one school, but that's the beginning of it. As we move down the road, how does everything else play out?" Sain said in the interview.

The Republican-controlled Legislature required Abele to appoint a commissioner to create a turnaround plan for the district's 53 failing schools. Abele and Means have said they will move one school into the new district next year, but have not specified how many schools they plan to shift in following years.

Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

If MPS takes part, the district would continue receiving state funding for the schools that become part of the new district. However, the funding would be at the reduced $8,079 per-student rate for charter schools, not the nearly $10,200 rate it currently receives for those students.

If the MPS board doesn't join the program, Means could have an outside group operate the schools. MPS would receive no funding for students in those schools.

When asked about the disagreement between county and school district officials, Gov. Scott Walker said they should begin working together. He didn't rule out additional changes if local officials can't agree.

"Those are things we'd have to look at, if we went any further or not," the governor told reporters Monday.

Abele has set a June 23 deadline for the school board to make a decision. Sain has said he's not sure if directors will meet that deadline because of their concerns.

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