MPS seeks public feedback as it 'rightsizes' buildings

NOW: MPS seeks public feedback as it ’rightsizes’ buildings

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Wednesday was the last chance for Milwaukee residents to share their thoughts in-person about what Milwaukee Public Schools' long-term plan should include for its buildings amid declining enrollment.

The fourth and final community session took place at Rufus King High School. About a dozen members of the public showed up, including Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Lena Taylor and State Rep. LaKeshia Myers (D-Milwaukee), who's running against Rep. Dora Drake in a special election for the seat Taylor vacated in the state Senate.

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is in the process of updated its long-term buildings plan. The district last created such a plan in 2018, and since then, a 20-year enrollment decline only worsened amid the COVID-19 pandemic and lower birthrates.

MPS had a little more than 98,000 students in 2004; this year, that number is slightly fewer than 68,000.

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. 14 schools are operating at less than 50% of their building's capacity.

Vince Toney, who attended Wednesday's meeting, said he believed the district needed to move forward with a plan to consolidate some of those low-enrollment schools.

"I was up at North Division [High School] a few weeks ago, and I counted about 5, 10 buses that came to that school and fewer than 10 people got off each of those buses," Toney said. "So, my concern is this is a time we need to consolidate some of these schools."

MPS has hired the outside firm, Perkins Eastman, to consult the district on its new buildings plan. The firm delivered a 30-minute presentation at Wednesday's meeting about how it had studied the district's demographics and would incorporate public opinion in its final recommendations to MPS. 

Sean Kane, the district's facilities director, said in an interview last week the district hadn't yet committed to closing or consolidating schools, even though Superintendent Keith Posley said in April consolidation would "absolutely" be part of the district's plan when it comes out this fall.

Kane said MPS found value in hiring the outside firm, which has previously consulted school officials in Washington, D.C.

"We're not the only school district in the country that's encountering this. This is a nationwide issue that people are looking to rightsize," Kane said. "So, as part of that, that's why we retained these services; to get recommendations because you have to get that framework to make those decisions, and sometimes, they are gonna be tough decisions."

During the debate surrounding MPS' $252 million referendum, which voters narrowly passed in April, Posley maintained closing schools would yield minimal savings for the district because of additional transportation costs and a state law requiring MPS to keep vacant schools on the market for at least two years before selling them.

While Wednesday was the final in-person session, an online survey is also available. That survey is open until Monday, and anyone interested in filling one out can do so here.

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