Milwaukee voters approve $252 million MPS referendum

NOW: Milwaukee voters approve $252 million MPS referendum

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Voters here passed a Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) referendum seeking to raise an additional $252 million by increasing property taxes.

The results show 51.06% voted yes, while 48.94% of voters said no. 

District leaders said the funding was essential because MPS faces a $200 million shortfall. MPS blamed a lack of state funding for the deficit, noting state funding has not kept up with inflation over the past two decades.

At the same time, declining enrollments have meant per student funding is currently a little bit more than it was in 2004 when adjusting for inflation.

MPS officials have said the funding will go toward maintaining gains made possible by passage of an $87 million referendum in 2020; that referendum passed with 77.6% of voters' support.

That money has allowed the district to expand art, music and library offerings in dozens of its schools.

Critics maintained the district did not offer enough details about how it will use such substantial amount of money to improve classroom outcomes. According to the most recent Department of Public Instruction report card, 52% of MPS students performed at a below basic level in reading while 64% were below basic in math.

With the referendum passing, city of Milwaukee property taxes will increase by $216 for every $100,000 of assessed value.

For a home valued at $250,000, that means a $540 property tax hike. If landlords opt to pass the increased costs to tenants, that will lead to higher rents.

Even with the passage, the district is also working to create a new long-term plan for its facilities as enrollment has dropped from 98,663 students in 2004 to 67,577 for this school year.

Some observers, including the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum, have questioned whether the district can save money by consolidating low-enrollment schools and eliminating some of the more than 600 positions that remain vacant.

Superintendent Keith Posley told CBS 58 in a February interview the district wouldn't save much money by closing schools.

Currently, dozens of the district's schools have enrollment totals well below their building's capacity. According to a building inventory report MPS is required to give the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, 36 schools have an enrollment number than is than 70% of capacity.

Twenty-three schools are operating at less than 60% of their buildings' capacity, and 14 schools are less than half full.

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