Voucher leaders direct Milwaukee’s “small high school” experiments

by Daniel Pryzbyla (Published educationnews.org December 16, 2003)

With Wisconsin and Milwaukee public school districts footing the bill for charter schools, “small high school” charter experiments will keep feeding at the taxpayers’ trough. It’s not at the war profiteering level beginning to surface in Iraq, but it has a similar code of conduct invented by wordsmiths seeking privatization of public education. “There is no difference between a public school and private school because they both help to serve society.” Thus, there is no difference between Vice President Cheney’s Halliburton company’s profit-gouging and U.S. armed forces in Iraq because they are both there to help fix damages after the invasion. Declaring MPS high schools unsatisfactory, pouring district tax dollars into the “Blueprint for Milwaukee’s High School Redesign” for “small high schools” charter experiments becomes justified to the wordsmiths. This hastily arranged experiment dated November 2003 is designed to implement another Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation national “small high schools” plan being marketed throughout the country. To minimize public overs ight, Gates presented the $17 million grant to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce (MMAC) to implement the experiments, not MPS. “Small high schools” with charter labels are proposed both inside existing public high schools while also closing other district schools to help facilitate at least 10 private charter exploits by the Alliance for Choices in Education (ACE), a pro-voucher front chaired by voucher guru Howard Fuller and other esteemed voucher board allies, including of course MMAC’s president Tim Sheehy. If you can’t come through MPS’s front door with charter schools, you enter by any means necessary. Back in March 2001, shortly after George W. was anointed president, then MPS Superintendent Spence Korte was secretly invited to Washington, D.C. carrying a pro-charter script. “We are interested in being the first charter school district in the nation — a district that would set the standard for how the federal government can best serve the educational needs of our children.” Huh? And who exactly was the “we”? No public hearings were held beforehand. There was not a word mentioned about the charter district plot — until after the fact. It didn’t sit well with the Wisconsin Legislative Black and Hispanic Caucus either. “Without consulting the parents, teachers, principals, and school communities to whom you purport to grant decision making authority, you took it upon yourself to offer up the Milwaukee Public School District to the federal government as the first charter school district,” the WLBHC letter in the April 10, 2001 WisPolitics.com stated. “Furthermore, your comments…inappropriately and inaccurately suggested that there is some kind of community consensus behind this measure, when, in fact, this was a unilateral decision made without any community input.” Being the puppet for Milwaukee’s charter education experimental labs paid its price for the former middle school principal selected to be superintendent. The charter district proposal was dumped into the sewer, and shortly thereafter Korte submitted his resignation in 2002 after his 4-year stint was over. At the time, a 5-4 pro-voucher majority still existed on the school board, two of them employees of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District that is controlled by city hall and pro-voucher Mayor John Norquist. He had already initiated the new City of Milwaukee “charter school district” in 1998, upset because MPS was lagging behind the charter school 8-ball. Norquist appointed Fuller, also director at the pro-voucher Institute for Transformation of Learning, affiliated with Marquette University in Milwaukee, to run the city’s charter district. It was a busy season for city hall’s voucher team. The Republican controlled state Supreme Court issued its ruling in June 1998 supporting religious inclusion in the school voucher Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. David Riemer, the mayor’s aide-de-camp, had filed an “amicus curiae” endorsing religious inclusion on behalf of his boss Norquist, Fuller, 5 MPS pro-voucher school board members at the time — John Gardner, Warren Braun, Bruce Thompson, Jeanette Mitchell and David Lucey (all no longer board members); and state Republican politicians Alberta Darling, Margaret Farrow and Joseph Leean. After Korte’s departure in 2002, the school board conducted an immediate search for his replacement. Overlooking two far more qualified women of color, one an experienced MPS assistant superintendent and the other a superintendent from out of state, the board kept its parochial Xs in the principal box, selecting William Andrekopoulos, another MPS middle school principal, to lead the $1 billion budget, 100,000 student school district beginning the 2002-03 school year. Of hundreds of large cities throughout the country, Milwaukee was selected to be the site for the June 2002 National Charter Schools Conference. Obviously, the city had been chosen earlier, expected to have the “first public charter school district” in the nation wrapped up by this time, and anxious to present it at the national charter gala. Certainly, its main speaker U.S. Secretary of Education Roderick Paige was expecting likewise, but he still showed his voucher loyalty after being introduced by then Republican Governor Scott McCallum. “Thank you, Governor McCallum — and thanks for what you are doing for the children of Wisconsin. You are a great friend to education and to our president. And we are grateful for your leadership.” Voters disagreed and ousted McCallum in favor of Democrat James Doyle in the next election. Paige continued. “Good to see Howard Fuller — another great friend to e ducation — is here.” Fuller was also appointed to George W.’s “education team” during the presidential campaign, and a major player in MPS “charter district” proposal in Washington, D.C. Several “non-instrumentality” charter schools existed within MPS jurisdiction prior to the Gates Foundation multi-million dollar grant. These type charters are virtually outside MPS and state accountability standards, including union membership and bargaining agreements. “Instrumentality” charters are also granted by MPS, with fewer accountability standards, but requiring mandatory state testing. According to the state Department of Public Instruction, when Wisconsin enacted its initial charter school legislation in 1993, only 13 charter schools were formed. Growth in charter schools followed changes to Wisconsin’s charter school law in 1995 and 1997, and charter school grants from the U.S. Department of Education that brought $24 million in funding to Wisconsin since 1996. The state has 137 charter schools this year. School districts and three cha rtering authorities — the City of Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and University of Wisconsin-Parkside — oversee the charter schools. Amy Hetzner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported these state-chartering authorities receive $7,050 per FTE charter student during the current 2003-04 school year. “The $26.4 million to pay for the program is taken directly from the general state aid fund for public schools,” translating into a 0.6 percent loss in aid for each of the state’s 426 school districts. For MPS this meant an additional $4 million cut in this year’s budget that eliminated teachers and other staff, programs and supplies. Charter funding caused recent turmoil throughout school districts this year, most already strapped with increased cutbacks. State legislators have agreed to go back to the drawing board to seek other possible charter funding solutions. Meantime in Milwaukee, the Gates grant spurred on the school district’s “New Vision High School Redesign” charter plan to develop and open “30 new, small, innovative high schools and convert 7 of the current comprehensive high schools into multiplex campuses of small, autonomous schools that share a building.” Already started, this is to be accomplished by 2006. The grant money only covers “reorganization” costs, not any remodeling or school related salaries. A recent “non-instrumentality” charter school proposal at the December 9, 2003 MPS committee on Innovation/School Reform by TransCenter for Youth, Inc., stated its school CITIES Project High School “is largely dependent upon the per-pupil (charter) funding” from the MPS district. TransCenter director Dr. Daniel Grego is also Secretary of ACE — Fuller’s organization that’s receiving the largest slice of the Gates Foundation $17 million grant to MMAC. Grego’s non-profit organization already has 3 other charter schools under MPS contract. After the “New Vision High School” report dust settled, it was first made public that Marty Lexmond would manage the Technical Assistance and Leadership Center (TALC) to run MPS’s “New Vision” high school experiment within the superintendent’s office. TALC is an education subsidiary of Grego’s TransCenter for Youth, Inc. Lexmond’s annual salary, not made public, is projected to be $140,000 per year, and expected to come from “grant sources.” Superintendent Andrekopoulos received a vote of confidence from the school board early this summer after completing his first year in office, and was also presented with a $10,000 increase to $160,000 per year salary. MPS’s expensive $300,000 dual governance leadership to implement Gates Foundation’s “small high scho ol” experiment adds to the costly adventure — in more ways than just salaries. If voucher backers continue usurping education planning, previous 2001 efforts to make MPS a charter school district will soon be knocking on the door again.