Fighting to Save Our Schools

Parents and Teachers Seek Adequate Resources

by Carrie Trousil

Lisa Samper is a K-4 teacher at Elm Creative Arts, and she loves it. Recently, however, she learned that after this school year she won’t be returning to her classroom. “I can’t imagine teaching anywhere else,” she says. “It’s my dream school.”

She bluntly drops this personal bombshell at an SOS meeting, and outrage registers on her colleagues’ faces. Kelley Dawson Salas, who teaches fourth grade at La Escuela Fratney, says, “I am so furious about this. The same thing is happening to two teachers at my school. You know, we should be holding on to these people.” Students at Fratney have already lost a gym teacher, an art teacher, and after next year, they won’t even have a librarian.

Welcome to the world of the Milwaukee Public School system budget cuts and the Save Our Schools (SOS) coalition.

SOS is Milwaukee’s answer to these massive budget cuts – over $100 million in the past five years — with a mission to mobilize teachers and citizens in speaking out against the status quo. Aron Corbett, a teacher at Hayes Bilingual, illustrates, “This seems like a non-issue for the school board, for the mayor, and for our representatives. It’s just not on their radar. They’re just like, are what you should expect.” Dawson Salas adds, “We want to ask the school board to take leadership on the issue, to go to the state level with us, and to be part of finding a solution.”

Convincing the school board to act may not be a losing battle, as their ranks already hold some members sympathetic to the SOS mission. Jennifer Morales, a school board member who represents the Riverwest area, applauds the group’s efforts to bring students, teachers, and parents together. She says, “I hope that all milwaukeeans who are concerned about the education and well-being of our city’s children will contact their state and federal representatives to tell them what years of budget cuts have done to our schools… the only way that real school funding reform will happen is if citizens make the issue impossible for our elected leaders to ignore.

The coalition has already grabbed media attention with a protest outside the Wisconsin Athletic Club when the Fourth Congressional District Republican Caucus met in late March. Their next large event is May 20 at the MPS School Board public hearing on the 2004/05 budget. Before the hearing, the SOS stage a demonstration to draw attention the effects of the budget cuts. David Liners, a parent at Elm School, says, “We need to draw attention from the news, from TV stations, so we can create a hubbub.”

SOS is gathering volunteers to testify in front of the school board on three earlier dates in May. Rita Tenorio, Fratney teacher, parent, and member of a governor’s task force investigating school finance issues, says the testimonials are important.

“The main purpose right now is to get people out to share their stories about the impact of these cuts… This has been going on for five years and we can’t keep on just accepting these cuts. People need to start to asking our policymakers to figure out what we will do.”

To join the SOS coalition, call Mike Trokan at 414/964-9646. .

by Carrie Trousil