By Sam Woods
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
The Milwaukee Public Schools’ Board of School Directors on Thursday voted unanimously to end all but one contract with the Milwaukee Police Department and directed the school district not to purchase new security equipment such as metal detectors.
The district still has a $400,000 contract with MPD for a truancy program required by state law. The board is weighing its legal options as it considers how to keep the funds in the school budget.
Here are three things you need to know about the decision:
1. MPS has terminated all but one contract with MPD.
Until now, MPS has contracted with the Milwaukee Police Department to provide officers to act as School Resource Officers and provide event security. The contracts would have cost the district $478,242 during the 2020-’21 school year. On Thursday, the board voted unanimously to terminate contracts with the police department to provide School Resource Officers. The resolution was written by Directors Paula Phillips and Sequanna Taylor.
The contracts terminated by the School Board direct law enforcement officers to provide educational resources on such issues as alcohol, other drugs, laws, violence and crime prevention, as well as “the role of law enforcement in the educational setting.” The Police Department also consults with school administrators on matters of safety and security within the school building and provides security for large events.
Community members have argued that the presence of police in or around schools makes for an inherently unsafe environment for students, particularly students of color. Leaders Igniting Transformation, or LIT, a youth-of-color-led advocacy organization, has been organizing against a police presence in schools since its founding in 2017.
The school board’s vote “is a victory by and for Black and Brown students,” LIT executive director Dakota Hall said in a news release. “This resolution is the culmination of 2.5 years of work by LIT student leaders to defund police at MPS.”
Phillips said the concerns raised by students forced the Board of School Directors to evaluate, and ultimately, end the contract.
“Students kept saying over and over again that they didn’t want the police to be part of their educational experience,” Phillips said. “Even the police department put out a statement saying they understand why we would want to do this.”
The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, or MTEA, the teachers union at MPS, also supported the board’s decision. MTEA President Amy Mizialko has also called on the city to reallocate its police budget to other services such as health care, housing and social services.
The Milwaukee Police Department received $297 million in funding from the city in its 2020 budget. This fact was not lost on Director Bob Peterson.
“The amount of money we’re talking about here is almost symbolic compared to the amount of money the city puts into the police force,” Peterson said. “Even if we were able to divest fully, that’s less than 0.002% of the police budget.”
2. MPS still has a state-mandated contract with police
MPS still has a $400,000 contract with the Milwaukee Police Department for the state-mandated Milwaukee Truancy Abatement & Burglary Suppression Program, or TABS. According to state law, a school district of MPS’ size must pay the salaries and fringe benefits of four law enforcement officers to work on truancy abatement and burglary suppression full time.
The board is studying ways to get out of this contract and is weighing its legal options. Board President Larry Miller, who proposed the idea, said he believes it may be possible to fulfill this contract without sending money to the police.
“I do not want to send this $400,000 to the police,” Miller said during Thursday’s meeting. “My thinking is that we do not spend this money until we get a judgment from our lawyers and have total clarity on whether or not we have to.”
3. MPS will not purchase new “criminalizing equipment” such as metal detectors
The district will not “buy or maintain criminalizing equipment” such as metal detectors. Phillips said existing equipment will be phased out as it eventually breaks down.
“We keep learning more about the psychological effects that this equipment has on our students,” Phillips said. “To me, why would we maintain something if we’re not sold on whether it should be in schools altogether?”
For Angela Harris, an MPS teacher and chairwoman of the Black Educators Caucus MKE, eliminating security equipment is important because it forces the district to find alternative methods to keep students safe.
“It allows the district, educators and students to begin having conversations about different approaches to safety, what safety will look like without metal detectors and hand scanners.” Harris said.
Director Marva Herndon voted in favor of the resolution but expressed concern that removing security equipment could endanger students and community members who use school property for large gatherings.
“We have a responsibility to our students and the public,” Herndon said. “We cannot throw those responsibilities to the wind.”