By Dylan Deprey
The rumors of a Milwaukee Public School takeover lingered as a sharp edge of tension filled the air.
The stark red “no” symbol that covered the word “takeover” was the protester fashioned backdrop outside of Mt. Zion Baptist Church Monday May 9.
Parents, teachers and community members wielded their signs to express their anger with the lack of transparency between the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP).
“This is just bizarre,” Gina Hicks, founder of Women Committed to an Informed Community, said.
Hicks and other protesters were referring to the MPS Takeover Advisory Council meeting that was not posted as a public meeting.
Ingrid Walker-Henry, a MPS teacher, graduate, and mother of MPS students vented her frustration.
“This was not emailed to people who have expressed so much concern about the takeover and what it is going to do to the children and families of the community,” Walker-Henry said.
Walker-Henry warned that if the remaining funds at MPS were siphoned off, increased class sizes, increased special education case loads and reduced programs for students would be the final outcome. She added that it would also force teachers to re-apply for their own jobs.
“This affects every child in the city,” Walker-Henry said.
Protester Angela Walker acknowledged how a takeover would carry the same results with cities like Detroit and New Orleans who have experimented with privatizing schools.
“My grandchildren live here, my family has roots here, I think we deserve better than this,” Walker said.
The Advisory Council was made up of organizations concerned for the status of MPS. It was created to provide feedback to Commissioner Dr. Demond Means before a decision was made to comply with the Opportunity schools and partnership program law passed in 2015.
As Means’ spoke he was met with frequent shouts. He even asked the group of protestors for respect as they stood behind him holding their signs.
“What about the students’ respect?” A protester shouted.
“We are focusing on one school and it is not going to be more then one school, that is our promise,” Means said.
The faint sounds of protesters saying, “what about teachers?” and “what about parents” were the punctuation to fill the spaces of Means’ speech.
With the shouts of “takeover” colliding with his words, Means noted that his plan was not meant to be a takeover. He recently proposed a partnership between MPS and OSPP that would prevent private charters to manage MPS schools.
He offered the benefits of the partnership. He added that teachers would keep their positions, funding would stay with schools and the OSPP school would be returned to MPS after the five-year trial.
“I think there is fear that if the legislation is literally enacted in the way it was written it could be devastating to MPS,” Means said. “If people could just step back and analyze what we have put on the table as a proposal is nothing like a takeover.”
Although the meeting was not publicized, Means guaranteed that it was open to the public and invited protesters in.
Even after the location change the tension was felt throughout the basement of the church.
Kim Schroeder, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, offered that if Means could work out a proposal around the law, he could find a way to not have an OSPP school in general. Schroeder offered that the “failing” schools in Milwaukee simply need more funding.
“I am not going to be an accomplice to an unjust law,” Shroeder said. “Why does Mequon and others get more money per student? Our students have been under attack by the rest of the state throughout history and it has gotten worse.”
Shroeder left the meeting early and announced his resignation from his position on the Advisory Council on May 10.
While there was a multitude of disagreement, there were two things that everybody could agree on. Both sides of the spectrum acknowledged the lack of transparency between the people connected to MPS and the OSPP and that the children need to be the first priority in accepting the OSPP proposal.