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Issue of the Week: Behind the Push for a Mayor-Led MPS

Plus Heroes and Jerks of the Week

Sep. 2, 2009
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 Why are Gov. Jim Doyle and Mayor Tom Barrett so dead-set on taking over Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS)?

Two words: power and control.

But the power and control won’t shift to the mayor and governor. It’ll shift to the ones holding the purse strings—the conservative suburban business community, which has been trying to privatize MPS for years.

The supporters of a mayoral takeover are not being candid about their motives: If they can’t win an election, they’ll try to buy the board instead.

A mayoral takeover is an efficient way to control the district, since the business community has a hard time fielding candidates in board elections. The MPS board is made up of eight members that represent distinct neighborhoods and one member that’s elected citywide. In these eight small districts, a concerned citizen can win a grassroots campaign without a lot of money by knocking on a few thousand doors. On the other hand, the citywide board member must raise more money for TV ads and campaign literature. That’s why this position is usually held by candidates who raise big bucks from the business community.

And that’s why another citywide officeholder—the mayor—must find favor with the suburban business community. The mayor needs to either raise campaign money from wealthy businessmen to win a citywide election or placate them so that they don’t support a challenger in the next election.

So when someone tells you that education reform is “for the kids,” just smile. They’re either terribly nave or lying.

And when you’re told that mayoral control would actually increase accountability, try not to laugh. An appointed board member, who only answers to the mayor, would not feel a need to return a concerned parent’s phone call about a school problem.

What’s more, a mayoral takeover would have to be approved by the state Legislature. That dilutes Milwaukee’s voice. So just as in the voucher school program—which answers to no one in Milwaukee—this Milwaukee-only education decision would be made by legislators from Marinette, Crivitz, Juneau, Ripon and River Hills who have no firsthand knowledge of what’s happening in the state’s biggest city and school district.

The mayoral takeover isn’t about “the kids” at all.

Hero of the Week: Wisconsin Conservation Warden Matt Groppi

U.S. Army Reservist Matt Groppi returned home to Shorewood last week from Afghanistan, where he was assigned to the 330th Military Police Detachment. Prior to deploying, Groppi, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) warden, learned of plans to open Afghanistan’s first national park in the Band-e-Amir region, and took the initiative to contact local Afghani conservation officials to offer his help. Groppi was able to utilize his DNR training and skills to teach the importance of community involvement in managing resources for maximum conservation and tourism benefits. In addition, Groppi worked through the Wisconsin Association of Conservation Wardens to organize the collection and delivery of supplies to schools and students.

Currently enjoying a well-deserved north woods fishing vacation, Groppi will be reassigned to one of the DNR’s state regional areas in October. The Shepherd Express salutes Groppi’s service and initiative.

Jerk of the Week: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s “Great White Hope”

One could almost sympathize with a roomful of Republicans trying to eke out an original idea or identify reasonably non-offensive humanoids to supervise their party’s lemming-like march to irrelevance. Perhaps it was the strain of it all that led Kansas Republican Lynn Jenkins to describe Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as a “great white hope” of the GOP. Frankly, we’re a little disappointed, as we prefer more subtlety in our Republican racial fear-mongering. Jenkins later apologized by pleading ignorance, apparently unaware that the current chief executive is African American, or of the history of the phrase as it related to Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion, who was later convicted of a Mann Act violation by an all-white jury for transporting a white woman across state lines “for immoral purposes.” To date, Ryan has yet to repudiate the offensive “endorsement.”


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