MPS Pays for Facilities with Money Intended for Children

By Bob Peterson

Three years after the defeat of a $366 million facilities referendum, Milwaukee school buildings are still in need of repair and many classrooms, particularly at the elementary level, are severely overcrowded. Furthermore, because of the failed referendum MPS has been forced to “creatively” finance its facilities needs. As a result, millions of dollars have been siphoned from educational services and put into badly needed maintenance and renovation. Enrollment increases have added pressure.

Since the referendum, the city has issued about $39 million worth of bonds for MPS capital improvement. These funds have been used for renovation projects such as at Lincoln Middle School. The total amount from the city, however, comes to only one-ninth of the defeated referendum.

MPS has also funded building maintenance and expansion by using money from its operations budget. MPS is currently leasing buildings such as MECC (the old Schlitz complex) and Grand Avenue Middle School and about a dozen other small sites at an annual cost of about $5.5 million. School board members have argued that since the community rejected the building referendum, MPS has no option but to seek such arrangements to find space for the growing student enrollment.

In addition to these annual leasing costs, monies from the operation budget have also been used to renovate Kilmer and Hayes elementary schools at a cost of $1.6 million. Along with the revenue caps imposed by the state on the MPS budget, and the new financing formula which actually reduced the potential money coming into Milwaukee, this drain on the operations budget has been particularly devastating.