Milwaukee Public Schools Budget Time: Fun to Be Had By All


If you live in the Milwaukee area, you’re well aware that the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is easily one of the worst school systems in the country. The answer always seems to be MONEY. But the money isn’t really “for the children” as they would have you believe. The teacher’s union is running things, and the money doesn’t go to help the kids, it goes to line the pockets of the teachers.

Think I’m kidding? Check out what the average teacher is being paid in MPS. We’re talking total compensation of $80,000 to $110,000 per year for a job that requires about 1/2 to 2/3 the time and effort of regular professional jobs.

MPS also has a bloated administration budget, with far too many employees and nonsense wasting our money. MPS has become glorified daycare, feeding many children 3 meals a day (parents too stupid to feed their children?) and worrying more about how good they feel than if they can read and write.

The MPS enrollment for the school year that just ended was 86,819. Enrollment is projected to go down 4.7% for the next school year, which would put them at 82,739 students. The total budget being proposed for the next school year is $1.2 billion dollars. Yes, with a “b.” That equals spending of $14,503 per student. Are they out of their minds?

Spending at this level would cause a 15% increase in the portion of property taxes levied for MPS.

And if that’s not bad enough, there are a bunch of people who think the district should waste another $21 million “because they can.” Yep. The law would allow the district to waste $21 million more and people think they should do it. The legal limit on spending is based on the previous year’s spending, so by not “spending to the max” this time around, the district lowers future limits.

So here we are spending $14,503 per student to have one of the worst school districts in the country. That doesn’t really sound like a bargain to me. Area private high schools are charging tuition of $5,000 to $8,000. What does that say about the spending at MPS at more than double the middle of that range?

I’m so tired of hearing that MPS can’t do this or that for the children. It’s not because there’s not enough money. It’s because the money is being spent foolishly. And taxpayers need to demand better. MPS is a big toilet and my tax money is being flushed down it.

16 thoughts on “Milwaukee Public Schools Budget Time: Fun to Be Had By All

  1. Michael Goode

    Are you a fan of charter schools, Tracy? Don’t they have a bunch of them up in Milwaukee? Saint Louis public schools are probably just as bad and spend about as much money.

  2. Tracy Coenen

    I like the concept, but it hasn’t been terribly successful here. There were many new schools created under the charter system, some by inexperienced people who didn’t know what they were doing. There have been some abuses, as the founders of these schools stand to get a big payday from the system. I would like the charter system to have better quality control.

    What I like better is our voucher system, when the vouchers are used to attend well-established, high-quality private schools.

  3. Barbara

    Tracy I agree that MANY of the public school systems across the county spend their money very foolishly. My mom graduated from a school in Denver, Co. I graduated from a school in South Florida. The schools were both built the same year. They only differance my old high school had to be rebuilt because they never maintained the school properly and it was becoming very rundown and looked like trash. Then new one now looks more like a prison along with all the other schools in south Florida that are being built now. It has no unique look to it like the original.

    You have already heared my opinion about the pay to the teacher as I responded to you last post about teachers being paid an aweful lot for doing a little. Unfortuantely I think teachers are treated very unfairly when they relocate. My sister-in-law lost out on a great job because they were only hiring from within the county and not hiring outside the county because of something that was voted on (and the people for it had no clue what it was about). Now because she has to move, because my brother got a great job that he would have never been given the opportunity for where he lived before, she will more than likely be out of a job because of taxpayers voting on something stupid and the state and countys not properly budgeting and spending the moneys.

    I am to the point where we should not have a public school system. I think it should all be private where you pay for your children to attend. individual schools should raise their own money (funraiser, donations) and for those who can not afford, offer scholorships. no matter how the student comes into the school they pay some how. Parents should be required to help with functions and be involved with their children. No one would get left out and and parents would know what was going on with their children.

  4. Tracy Coenen

    I love the idea of complete privatization of schools. Unfortunately, it won’t ever happen because the teachers unions are too strong. They would never be in favor of a system that includes competition, in which good teachers and schools could be rewarded for doing well. They instead favor systems that cater to the lowest common denominator.

    In an unscientific survey of Milwaukee Public Schools teachers, the overwhelming consensus was that 40% of the teachers in the system should be fired because they are so horrible. Yet the 60% won’t stand up and stop it. They could force their union to do something about it, but they don’t.

    Life is good on this gravy train. Of course they don’t want to get off.

  5. First of all, do you know how much time goes into preparing a lesson, grading papers, counseling students before and after school, meeting with parents, etc.? A close friend of mine just got a job at a new school and worked 12 hour days, six days a week. Oh her free time, she went to bookstores to look for useful texts for the classroom. Or, she volunteered to work with parents on activities. At the job we both worked before this, we both worked 12 hour days, we spent most of our own money building the school’s college and career prep center, I bought a cell phone to call colleges for my students with it, I called parents on my free time, I often helped pay for my students’ travel expenses to get to colleges to visit and then finally to get there (usually they got financial aid or scholarships) and my colleague worked painstakingly with some of the weakest students in the school to insure that they found appropriate programs to help them to continue to build their skills. What did we get for this? Well, the NYC Dept of Ed. closed our school because it was too expensive to run after doing 17 years of what they acknowledged was very good work. It’s just cheaper to send the kids we worked with, who happened to be 18-21, to GED programs. So they are. What did we get for our hard work? She got shipped off to a new school to be a FULL TIME SUBSTITUTE and is told she is TOO EXPENSIVE for her school to hire, but they will let her mentor, teach, run detention, teach Saturday Regents Prep, come into classes and assist teachers pretty much every period of the day (and what this really means is work with the students those teachers ARE NOT REACHING WHICH IS MOST OF THEM) without a break. Where am I? Waiting for my placement in a similar position. So, in summary:
    Not only do teachers do more than you think, we are often not compensated for all we do and not given any kind of security even when we go above and beyond the call of duty. But, we do it anyway because it is about the kids.
    I’m not saying everyone is an altruist — is every accountant fair? Is every lawyer truthful? But most of the teachers I’ve met are trying to do a good job with few resources and as much of their personal time as they can give.
    By the way, our union has nothing to do with anything. They basically just try to keep us barely afloat — we are barely alive — WE HAVE NO TENURE TO SPEAK OF IN NEW YORK, VERY LITTLE SECURITY AND NO REAL TRANSFER RIGHTS. OUR UNION IS JUST HOLDING ON TO OUR RIGHTS TO TEACH. SO, WE HAVE NO STRONGHOLD ON ANYTHING. OUR MAYOR CONTROLS EVERYTHING.
    From what I can see, not much has changed. The English Regents — our State Exam — is an easy exam. I’ve heard that the city tests have been watered down. So, it’s hard to know if there’s been improvement. I don’t see students coming to me with more enthusiasm, but I get them to be energized. I never relied on anyone to do my work for me. And I don’t worry about what happens around me. My job is to do the best work I can with the students in front of me and help them do much more than pass their exams. It gets harder to feel that free, though when all people talk about are tests and when people don’t realize how hard you are working and, instead, keep talking about firing you.

  6. I should clarify that our school just closed. Some of us got shipped off by the superintedent early and some us stayed till June closing and will be told where we go over the summer. We’re all looking for work but no one wants to hire us because our salaries are so high, but they’ll let us come to their schools on the DOE’s dime as substitutes and use us for every period of the day. I don’t mind working every period of the day. I don’t think that’s the most efficient use of my skills. I would teach every period in my subject or in other subjects, but not having the opportunity to prepare drives me personally crazy. My friend is in a unique situation, inasmuch as, at least the school she is in respects her enough to use her talents wisely. That isn’t alwaysthe case. Sometimes your just thrown at whatever happens. Now, THAT’S A WASTE OF MONEY. I can honestly say that PREPARED, I can do anything. I can come in with and I’m building a little arsenal of lessons on-hand, but in a high school there are so many possibilties. What I’m really trying to do, and I go on about three interviews a week, is find a job, in the school system or out. I think making me a substitute is a waste of money and a waste of my 40’s.

  7. Tracy Coenen

    Floraine – Thanks for participating. Your posts are very interesting. Come to Wisconsin – the union will be your friend! I hope you can find a new job!

  8. All I was hoping to do was have you understand how hard a teacher works. But, why should you? You should try teaching an urban class for a day. I won’t give you any lesson plans. You have to do the whole thing on your own, not a lick of help from a soul, just like I had to, the very first day. And your colleagues will all be hoping you fall on your face because it’s a ruthless culture, at least in NY. The kids throw things at you and they ask you about your sex life and you can’t get a word in edgewise. You have to figure out how to control things quickly. The longer you take, the more things get out of hand and things like bottles can be thrown at you, chairs, sharp pencils, razors, books, etc. No one will come in and help you and if you call for help, you look weak. I’ve been doing it for 16 years and when I walk in the classroom, it gets silent in about ten seconds. I’m 4’11” and I’m a nerd’s nerd. I just have a really good rapport with the kids and the kids say I give off the aura that I might throw someone out the window. Plus, of course, they say, they UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING I SAY, AND THEY LEARN FROM ME. I’ve never had a down year with test scores and I’ve never had students who came in with good skills.

    So, how about this: you come to NY and take my class when I get my next job and I’ll take a swat at a day of your accounting. That’s what you do, right?

    Oh yeah…I graduated from Stuyvesant High School before I went to Barnard College, Columbia University on a full scholarship. Stuyvesant is the city’s top Math and Science magnet school. I’m very quick at math and am actually thinking of getting a CPA if teaching keeps heading toward the drain it does.

    My late father was a CPA. He found the job very unrewarding which is part of why I didn’t do it. I barely knew him, but I saw him a few times leaving his office and he just looked like this overwhelmingly worn, chain-smoking, disconnected creature. Whatever I do, I am always connected to developing life, which I liked. I used to, anyway.

    Take care and no offense meant,

  9. G

    I have taught in the state of Wisconsin for 11 years. My first 7 seven years were for MPS. My last four have been in the suburbs. I currently hold a masters degree and I can state for a fact that I have and never will earn anywhere close to $80,000. I can also state with assurance that the MPS union is extremely weak. If you talk about bringing the union in the administration laughs. The union is a joke now. The administration will make your life miserable for your attempt, though. The teachers (what few there really are) are not getting the money. The union is not getting the money, and the schools are not getting the money either. It is the top heavy administration that is not part of the teacher’s union and negotiates it’s own contracts that profits.

    Like Floraine I am a good teacher. I’m interested in making sure that my students succeed, and my students always excelled on state and national tests. I was given students with few skills and would manage to make more than a year’s worth of progress with each student. I didn’t mind working in the tough urban classroom. Students responded to me and progressed better than they did with other teachers. I left because I chose not to raise my children in Milwaukee City.

    MPS, despite my success was happy to see me go. Why you ask? Simple. They really don’t want qualified teachers in the classroom. While, I never made 1/2 of $80,000 in my life, compared to a substitute or a trainee I am expensive, not because of my salary, but because of my benefits.

    What is little known is that MPS prefers to staff classrooms with substitutes and untrained teacher’s being trained on the the job to save money. The substitutes are paid half again of a teacher salary even if they qualify for some benefits. The trainees are even cheaper. They get no benefits, are paid less than the subs because they are “in training”, they have to pay a portion of the salary back to MPS as compensation for the “training”, and when their “training” is considered complete they are required to interview for a job with MPS (they are actually prohibited from interviewing or accepting a position where their training took place.)

    There are many qualified teachers at MPS (I was one of them) working hard under difficult circumstances. However, there are just as many “Trainees” with no experience in the classrooms. Substitutes would be better. Most substitutes tend to possess some type of educational background. These trainees usually have none. They are thrown into the classroom and asked to sink or swim on their own from day one. They are expected to set up the classroom and establish control before they even begin their first “night course.” They do not have any support from the teachers or administration around them. A normal teacher works 12 hour days. 6-8 hours face to face time with students and 4-6 hours preparing lessons, grading papers, contacting parents, attending meetings, workshops, supervising after school activities, tutoring etc. This is in addition to continuously attending school to maintain certifications and keep abreast of the latest teaching practices.

    So what is being asked of these “trainees” is no more than what they would ask from the certified teacher. The “trainee” is supposed to “teach” their class during the daytime (they arrive at 7:00 and leave for night school about 4:00pm). As soon as the school bell rings signaling the end of the day they pack up their things and head to their accelerated night class. About 7:30-8:00pm class ends, but alas they are not done for the night. Because they had to leave right after school they couldn’t prepare for the next day. To make matters worse school is already in session so what they are learning, while helpful, is not getting them prepared to tackle the next day. They must now go home and work until 11:00-12:00am on lesson plans for the next day. Forget grading papers. It is more important that they are prepared to teach tomorrow. They have no experience preparing “on the fly” , and a class of 28-33 students with time on it’s hand is going to get out of control very quickly.
    Unfortunately, classroom management is not a subject that is often taught in a teaching program, and when there is one it is often the last subject to be taught.

    MPS, obviously, has no interest in making sure these “trainees” are successful. If they did they wouldn’t throw them into a classroom on their own to sink or swim. It also wouldn’t prohibit them from getting employment in the school were they were “trained,” and require them to interview for position, elsewhere. It is a sad way to save money and cut costs, and it is the children who suffer.

    MPS can only put “trainees” in classroom when they don’t have enough “qualified teachers” So they discourage qualified teachers with residency clauses, poor pay, poor working conditions etc. (did I forget to mention that you are lucky to even get a 20 minute lunch in your long day much less time to run to the bathroom?) Not to mention the generous pay (which the highest I ever got was $37,000) often goes back into the classroom because you have to buy all of your own materials. I usually spent about $5,000 on the classroom yearly.

    Unfortunately, it is these types of practices that have given teachers a bad name. These “trainees” are referred to as teachers and filling the role.

    So now are you curious where your increased taxes are really ending up? They are not lining the teachers pockets. Nor are they going to the union nor are they being used to improve school conditions, or even to give the classroom materials (the teacher pays for those) The money has to be going somewhere right?

    The administration is not part of the teacher’s union. They negotiate their own contracts, and traditionally make between $60,000-$150,000 a year. Depending upon the years of experience and the size of their school. This is starting pay. Each administrator also receives bonus payments based upon the performance of their particular school. For instance, administrators receive a bonus for having a desired percentage of student attendance for the month, they receive bonuses for having fewer than a certain number of suspensions, for high tests scores for their students, etc. Not only are their bonuses contingent on these things so is their performance evaluations. These incentives are meant to inspire the principals to do good things. Of course, high attendance, test scores, and low suspensions etc. are desirable, right. Makes sense.

    This practice inevitably backfires at MPS. The administration is not in the classroom with the teachers helping the kids achieve those high test scores. The only thing the administration can do to impact this area is adopt curriculum that he/she believe will help the teachers achieve it. Many administrators do just that. They are constantly spending their funds on new curriculum which they in turn pressure the teachers to learn and teach to the students. Purchasing new curriculum is extremely expensive. There are many programs out there that promise big results, and training in their new techniques when you purchase their program (highly enticing when I am an administrator with many untrained “trainees”) By expensive I mean extremely. For a popular program called “Direct Instruction” the teacher’s manual cost is $600 for 1 book. It is a program that prohibits copying, and each individual teacher must have their own copy because there is a script they must read to the students. Each student must have student materials, each textbook is $60-$80 a piece, and the consumable workbook is a cheap $18(but must be repurchased each year). Administrators are constantly switching or adding curriculum in order to influence student achievement and teachers are constantly trying to stay abreast of the new curriculum so that they can teach it. It is a never ending time consuming expensive process. What else is expensive besides administrator salaries, bonuses, and curriculum materials? Tests. Now each building must allocate part of its budget to pay for making copies of mandatory tests that must be given to students. Each building is charged fees. Each school is also charged for the collection and processing of the data for those mandatory tests.

    Back to the bonuses. Believe it or not attendance and suspensions are linked. If a student is suspended they are counted absent for the day, thus affecting the principals attendance and suspension bonus at the same time. Principals are effectively discouraged from suspending students, and most try to avoid it at all costs. Most of them believe that they will have to suspend quite a few students towards the end of the year so they don’t start out heavy on suspensions. They believe it makes them look better, and maybe it does. I’ve seen principals bend over backwards not to suspend a student who truly deserves it. The administrator sends that student back into the classroom. After all they don’t have to deal with the student; the teacher does. Principals who do this; especially to unqualified teachers, are asking for out of control classrooms. What does the administrator care they get their bonus.

    But this doesn’t account for all of those millions, especially the increased spending does it? No it doesn’t. Over the years, in response to these out of control, ineffective classrooms, that they created themselves a voucher system was begun. Poor disadvantaged students could choose a private school or a public school in another district more to their liking. The voucher school either agrees to take the student for reduced tuition or on scholarship. Each enrolled student is worth about $10,000 to MPS. When that student opts out of MPS, MPS can no longer claim the money for that student. The voucher is worth about $4,000, and is paid to the voucher school so it is a great way for the state to save $6,000; at least initially. Which is why it was originally supported by the state. After all they were giving these kids a better education for a huge savings, right? It was a win, win situation, just not for MPS which was steadily loosing money at first as more vouchers were approved.

    True, there was a lower student population, but it was a fallacy to believe that costs of running the schools would be cut in proportion to the revenue that was being lost. Each school building had to be maintained, heated and kept up even though there were fewer students in attendance. The “good” students with the concerned parents were attending schools outside the district, leaving the rest of the student population with even fewer role models and less parental involvement than ever before. To make matters worse all the state mandated programs for students with special needs still had to be maintained and funded (students from poorer areas cost more to educate; especially in a public setting because of all the state mandated programs) There is a higher percentage of students with learning disabilities, handicaps, and emotional needs.

    To add icing on the cake the students who were blessed to be accepted into the voucher system left only to find out the there were no programs at the private schools to help them if they were behind, or had learning disabilities etc. Private schools were not equipped or funded to handle this.

    It was decided that since MPS was funded by the city and state that they should provide services to voucher students without them. So voucher students would attend private school, but still have access to a state funded speech therapist, etc. Now MPS was providing expensive services to students that it could not count in it’s enrollment, and was not receiving funds for.

    This was causing an increased budgetary crisis. Through negotiations with the state it was finally decided MPS could recoup most of their losses for any and all students for which it provided services. This means that instead of saving money through the voucher system the state pays the voucher amount to the school and a student fee to MPS on top of it. No longer saving any money on its plan.

    It was just beginning to balance back out when some genius dreamed up charter schools. Anyone who would like to start up a charter school may petition the city. In fairness to the city you do have to have a good idea of how your particular school is going to offer something unique to it’s students. At the time politics was such that people were really discouraged with MPS They didn’t see the voucher program as enough, after all MPS was still failing. Charter school appeared to be the answer, start up a school with an innovative curriculum, that would draw students and help them learn.

    Sounds good except they went about it in exactly the same way as they did the voucher program. Money allocated for the student was diverted away from MPS and to the charter school. Unlike the regular MPS schools there were no budget restrictions, no pay back fees for testing materials, and fees paid to support administrative offices downtown. Charter schools while funded by MPS had complete autonomy on how they were run. The regular schools were again left with declining enrollment in buildings which still cost the same to heat and maintain, and bearing the burden of offering special services to all students in the area. These students were now more spread out, not just in MPS, but in charter schools and private schools as well. The cost of sending qualified professionals (speech therapists, physical therapists, etc.) everywhere is enormous. Unlike teachers, whom everyone believes that anyone could do our job, the state insists that these services be provided by trained highly qualified professionals. This area of education has become increasingly legislated over the years, much of it unnecessary and time consuming.

    That is where all your money goes. It is time to stop blaming the qualified teachers who are only trying to do their jobs, and take a hard look at the practices of administration in education. The teachers have been the scape goats long enough. If the public would insist that there be a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, and insist that a support network structure be in place for that teacher and the students. I guarantee without reservation that the public would see a difference in MPS in a few short years for a fraction of the cost that is being spent now. After all, we teachers don’t require exorbitant salaries, or huge bonuses, to do our jobs. All we want is some stability , support, and, encouragement.

    Like Floraine, I am considering leaving the profession. I am tired of being moved around from one place to another, always starting from scratch, and not being appreciated for the work that I do, the long hours I put in, and the sacrifices I make for the children I teach. While I don’t regret it, and I will miss it. I can get paid more with a Master’s in the business world without all this aggravation.

    Thanks for listening,


  10. dan from calgary

    I found it interesting to compare the results of MPS to Calgary Board of Education – see .

    I think we have more students now due to MPS’s shrinking enrollment, but our budget is lower, and in smaller Canadian dollars. Also, our school year may be longer, going from Aug 27 – June 30th.

    From the report it looks like they are doing a good job with low drop out rates and high student achievement in testing, etc. To be fair the students may be more motivated to succeed due to parents higher income level or education.

    Am I right to assume from reading comments that in MPS they actually allow trainees without degrees to be in charge of a class?

  11. SJ

    I don’t know of any teachers making that much money. THat is above the top of the teacher scale. Your information is off

  12. Tracy Coenen

    If you follow the links I provide, you will see that the compensation of $80,000 to $110, 000 is inclusive of the very lucrative benefits teachers get.

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