The Honorable Gwen Moore
1239 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative Moore:
We thank you for your February 5th letter to State Superintendent Tony Evers. We very much appreciate your interest in the efforts being made to improve the educational opportunities for students in the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system. We are concerned that Dr. Evers’ letter does not give you a comprehensive and accurate picture of the intensive reform efforts currently underway within Milwaukee Public Schools. Accordingly, we feel compelled to paint the rest of this picture for you.
In light of the significant reform efforts underway, the decision to withhold funds is unreasonable and unlawful. In truth, we have not only complied with every reasonable demand, but the efforts underway far exceed the corrective action requirements that the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has imposed upon Milwaukee Public Schools.
Superintendent Evers’ letter implies that there are wide areas of disagreement that MPS is unwilling to bridge. This is simply untrue. We have been collaborating and implementing intensive reform efforts in the areas of instruction, assessment, and supportive services for students and families.
These efforts are showing early promise and have been met with praise from the DPI officials at every turn. On the vast majority of issues, we are in complete compliance and where we are not in complete compliance, we have reached agreement with DPI on the basic tenets surrounding the outcomes for students and families within Milwaukee Public Schools.
The Department of Public Instruction’s corrective action plan is made up of three sections and MPS is actively engaged in addressing the items in the first and third sections of the plan. Section II, however, is an attempt to force upon MPS the terms of the DPI-DRW (Disability Rights Wisconsin) settlement in the Jamie S. litigation. MPS was not a party to that settlement and the district opposes and objects to the terms of the DPI DRW settlement for valid and just reasons. Based on these grounds, MPS has not ignored warnings from the state; to the contrary, the district has asserted its right to due process within the legal system and has repeatedly had conversations with and suggested to DPI that it delay implementation of Section II of the plan until litigation related to the Jamie S. lawsuit is settled. The case is currently before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the Seventh Circuit has stayed implementation of the remedy phase of these proceedings.
Unfortunately, DPI has not taken that path and has instead improperly included its settlement language within the DIFI corrective action plan. This action represents a clear conflict of interest on the part of DPI, as the agency was a co-defendant in the suit and has reached a separate settlement. While we will continue to implement programs that improve student opportunities, the district will also continue to assert its right to due process, despite the recent heavy-handed and misplaced threats made by the Department of Public Instruction.
If the federal appeals court finds that MPS did not violate any law, or substantially modifies the district court’s order, there would be no legal basis upon which DPI could justify the imposition upon MPS of Part II of the corrective action plan as currently drafted on MPS. If the appeal is decided entirely in favor of Disability Rights of Wisconsin, MPS will be obligated to implement the court-ordered changes, irrespective of any DPI directive. MPS respects the judicial process and it defies common sense that MPS would give up its legal rights at this juncture and acquiesce to what it believes is an ill-conceived and irresponsible settlement agreement.
The above makes it apparent that the real reason that DPI has filed the notice of intent to withhold funds is as a result of a long-standing position of Milwaukee Public Schools that DPI is not authorized to require MPS to carry out their settlement agreement with the plaintiffs in the Jamie S. case. This settlement agreement not only interferes with MPS’ statutory rights to control the operations of its schools, but requires large misallocations of resources toward endless fishing expeditions that are unlikely to yield results and divert resources from programs that experts have agreed are most effective. As a result, DPI is trying to impose fiscally irresponsible and operationally unnecessary requirements upon MPS through the DIFI plan.
Moreover, threatening to withhold funds under these circumstances is a blatant attempt to impose detailed curricular mandates on MPS in contravention of state statutes. This action far exceeds the authority of DPI. In fact, Superintendent Evers publicly acknowledged this in the mayoral control hearings in Milwaukee in January, 2010.
We also note that Superintendent Evers’ letter actually supports our position that there are not vast areas of disagreement between the Department of Public Instruction and Milwaukee Public Schools. Each of the points that Superintendent Evers identifies as areas of disagreement are actually areas of agreement and are currently in development in collaboration with DPI. His statement that “the choice is up to MPS” belies the fact that DPI has handcuffed itself to an ill-advised settlement agreement that dictates its position in this one area. As a result, it has taken a position that is unreasonable, inflexible and unworkable. Accordingly, we would suggest that you ask the State Superintendent to explain how this settlement agreement ties into reasons the district is in DIFI status and its decision to withhold funds.
Lastly, we take great offense at Superintendent Evers’ implication that MPS is not working aggressively, tirelessly and with a heightened sense of urgency to fulfill our obligations, both legally and morally to every student within Milwaukee Public Schools. In fact, as recently as yesterday, MPS was applauded by DPI staff as making great effort and great progress towards total transformational system-wide change. MPS stands at the ready to continue to implement these dramatic system-wide initiatives in order to provide the highest quality education for the children and families of Milwaukee.
Michael Bonds, President
Milwaukee Board of School Directors
William G. Andrekopoulos,
Superintendent of Schools