By Dylan Deprey
While students prepare for the upcoming school year, so are local elected officials as they work to ensure students get the best education they can. But, in the fight for education, 14th District Alderman, Tony Zielinski has asked for Mayor Tom Barrett to be more transparent in recent MPS related legislation.
According to Zielinski, following a special session for the Steering and Rules Committee regarding a $200,000 State grant towards a one-year pilot program for wraparound services at Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education, Legislative Liaison Oscar Tovar asked several aldermen to hold the matter at the next Common Council meeting after it passed committee.
“This has the Mayor’s fingerprints all over it,” Zielinski said. “We had an open and public meeting for the Mayor to express his objections to this, and instead of taking advantage of the transparency, he is going behind the scenes.”
BOSS to Improve Students’ and Families’ Lives
Back on Jan. 9, 2017, the City of Milwaukee unanimously passed resolution 161087, which established a partnership between the City of Milwaukee and MPS. The partnership would create the Milwaukee Innovative Network for Education (MINE). The Building Occupational Skills for Success (BOSS) initiative would be the main vehicle for this partnership.
BOSS would implement educational, occupational, and behavioral development strategies as well as wrap-around services in mental health, trauma, AODA, opioid abuse prevention, housing and parenting. These programs and services would be offered to both students and their families, according to the Building Occupational Skills for Success Information Packet.
Pete Bellavia developed the BOSS program to address the growing need for community leadership by preparing students with the skills and tools necessary to become future small business owners.
“The BOSS program has a dual focus on technical skills and entrepreneurship, a combination that is the proven framework for vibrant communities around the country. By helping to develop an entrepreneurial mindset within the student population, we hope to empower the next generation of community and business leaders. Utilizing a collective impact model, we seek to combine the efforts and resources within Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education with a variety of community stakeholders. If successfully implemented, this program stands to serve as an economic catalyst through the creation of locally owned small businesses,” Bellavia stated in an email.
MPS chose Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education (BOSCTE) out of four schools to house the pilot program for 450 students. BOSCTE is located in the Sherman Park community. It is unranked Nationally by the U.S. News and World report. Ninety-eight percent of the 695 students are minority, and 92 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.
“These kids and their families are dealing with issues with respect to housing, trauma, AODA, mental health, job training, job placement and job readiness,” Zielinski said. “If you’re a kid that doesn’t know where you’re going to be staying, how do you concentrate and focus on school.”
BOSS would be a three-year program that would begin Sophomore year. During a student’s first year of the program, they would establish essential skills necessary to find and have a successful summer employment.
Junior year would focus on personal finances, Business Communication, Leadership and Entrepreneurship and Health and Safety.
The third stage is the Senior Capstone Project. The project will be made up of sequential modules that lead students through the steps of creating a business.
According to a NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation survey found that 90 percent of teachers and guidance counselors said their students were interested in becoming entrepreneurs, but 75 percent of the students didn’t know where to start.
Zielinski added that education was a key component to some of Milwaukee’s major issues.
“If we can increase test scores, increase class attendance and graduation rates we’re going to reduce crime, and create more jobs for people,” Zielinski said.
A Look into the Dollars, Cents and Legislation
On May 31st, 2017, the State bipartisan joint committee on finance unanimously passed budget motion 296, which authorized $200,000 in matching funds from the State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to support BOSS. The City of Milwaukee would have to put up $200,000 to match the State’s funding, with a total cost being $400,000.
According to Legislation details, the City’s portion would come from an Office of Violence Prevention ReCast Milwaukee Project grant. The Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued the grant. It was meant to be used in assisting high-risk youth and their families to promote resilience, equity and evidence-based violence prevention and community youth engagement programs.
In the last Common Council meeting before the end of the legislative session on Monday, July 31, 2017, Zielinski eventually put the matter on hold due to a letter from Employ Milwaukee’s Earl Buford.
The letter stated that Milwaukee Public Schools and EMPLOY Milwaukee were working together under a Memorandum of Understanding, on the Career Plus Program. The program’s goals are stated as connecting available services for young people through improvement in their ability to meet local employers’ skill requirements, increased selfsufficiency and enhanced productivity and competitiveness in the workforce.
According to the letter, Buford stated that BOSCTE students would have access to Career Plus program services, which would place a full-time Career Coordinator in the school. He added that the program focused on planning and supporting career paths, as well as utilizing a variety of strategies to connect students to the working world.
“EMPLOY Milwaukee understands the importance of accepting the State matching fund. Providing us time to refine the BOSS proposal, integrate program goals with curriculum and develop a sustainable budget will not just insure acceptance of the State funds but provide an opportunity to strengthen our shared programmatic goals over time. Our intent is to collaborate with MPS and provide you with an implementation plan September,” Buford stated in the letter.
According to the Employ Milwaukee website, Mayor Barrett is the chief local elected official directing the work for the program.
The Milwaukee Courier reached out to both Mayor Tom Barrett’s office and Legislative Liaison Oscar Tovar, but neither were available for responses. Both are available to contact the author for an update to the article.
Back to the Steering and Rules Committee
Ultimately, Zielinski said he would ideally like the Mayor to agree that the City should work with MPS, but if the Mayor was opposed to the idea, he should have been upfront in the public forum, instead of behind closed doors.
“There has to be a sense of urgency, if you look what is happening in this community and all over,” Zielinski said. “I believe very strongly that we have to help make the central city stronger because it makes the entire city stronger.”
The proposed BOSS legislation will be discussed in the next Steering and Rules Commission meeting on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017.