Milwaukee Public Schools referendum topic of Wisconsin Policy Forum panel

NOW: Milwaukee Public Schools referendum topic of Wisconsin Policy Forum panel

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) --- As the April election nears closer, debate is still brewing about the Milwaukee Public Schools referendum.

On Friday, the Wisconsin Policy Forum hosted a virtual panel discussion about the referendum and invited MPS Superintendent Keith Posely to talk about why the district is asking for an increase in funding.

MPS is one of more than 90 Wisconsin school districts with a referendum on the ballot and one of 60 other districts asking voters to help increase its operating budget through a referendum.

MPS says its facing a $200 million budget shortfall for the 2024-2025 school year and says the referendum will allow them to maintain smaller class sizes, keep high-quality teachers, and retain programming like art, physical education, and music.

"All of those things are making sure that we are able to move academically forward," said Dr. Posely during the Wisconsin Policy Forum discussion. Research data from the Wisconsin Policy Forum found that inflation, but largely an enrollment decline is what's contributing to the district's loss in revenue over time.

Sara Shaw, Senior Researcher at Wisconsin Policy Forum broke down an analysis of the topic. "MPS' enrollment has declined by nearly 32% and enrollment is a primary factor in the school funding formula determining how much money schools receive," she said.

MPS is asking for a $252 million increase to its revenue limit over the next four years. $127 million of that would come from a property tax increase.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) is campaigning against the tax hike that would come from the MPS referendum. " We're just really concerned about the domino effect," said Dale Kooyenga, MMAC President.

The concern is that the tax increase will negatively impact Milwaukee's housing market over time and could drive people out of the city.

"MMAC did a survey of people who own rental property that own apartments and over 90% of them said this is going to increase the rents," said Kooyenga.

Officials with MMAC say MPS funding needs to be restructured, not increased. "If you look at what they're getting per student, it's approaching $20,000 per student. The question is...where's that money going?" said Kooyenga.

With less students in the last 20 years, Wisconsin policy forum asked superintendent Posely about right sizing. "The right sizing is part of our 5-year strategic plan, and we are on the way with that plan. We have done a space utilization study. We are doing a facilities masterplan," he said.

This also includes changes to the school bus structure. Posely says building maintenance is also a factor.

"Right now. we have 2 buildings that are still sitting on the market, probably been on the market 10-15 years that we have yet to sell but we still have to do upkeep on those buildings," he said.

Voters will need to analyze all factors and potential impacts of the referendum for both the district and them when deciding on their April ballot.

Alan Borsuk, Senior Fellow, Marquette University Law School; Willie Jude II, Executive Director, Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation; and Colleston Morgan, Jr., Executive Director, City Forward Collective were also part of Friday's panel discussion.

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