It wasn’t on the agenda for Wednesday’s special session of the Wisconsin legislature, but reform of Milwaukee Public Schools was a hot topic at the Capitol. Katie Venskus doesn’t live in Milwaukee or have children in MPS, but she was at the Capitol advocating for a bill which would give the Milwaukee mayor the authority to hire the superintendent and set the district tax levy – things now done by the school board.
“Kids in MPS have been held prisoner to the politics of adults for a really long time now,” Venskus said. “It’s time to let them out. It’s time to let this issue move forward, and if the public wants to debate it, bring it on. Debate is good, rigorous debate is absolutely necessary when you undertake change of this magnitude.”
La Monte Harris, a community organizer who was questioning – and videorecording – Venskus and others on the issue, said he has a problem with the mayoral control proposals. “This is part of what we get into from those of us who do come from the city of Milwaukee, who do have children there, is this influence that we have around people who don’t really understand (MPS)” said Harris. “It’s like going into the doctor’s office, and he doesn’t even ask you what’s wrong with you, he just says let me operate on you.”
“Am I saying that mayoral control or mayoral accountability is going to magically reverse student performance, and our test scores are going to skyrocket? No. I would be foolish and naive to make that kind of argument,” said Venskus, adding that backers of the bill from state Senator Lena Taylor welcome the opportunity to attend a public hearing on MPS reform, which will take place next month in Milwaukee.
“MPS has tremendous problems,” said Harris. “And I think unless all parties are willing to come together to sit down and talk about these problems, we’re never going to be able to come up with a solution, because we only look at it from one side.”
Harris, Venskus (7:05) AUDIO: Harris, Venskus (7:05 MP3)