Lack of Money is NOT the problem with the Milwaukee Public School System

MPS is failing its customers (the students, the taxpayers and the community). It is NOT because of a lack of money.

I took a stab at the money issues in a comment at the Fraud Files Blog. The author of Fraud Files (a Forensic Accountant) cleaned it up and improved upon the point I was trying to make with the post:

I don’t think taxpayers have any idea what wasteful spending MPS does. One reader of this blog broke it down in the comments of another article on this site. I’m going to refine those numbers a little. MPS is going to have 80,228 students next year. Assuming 30 students per classroom, that gives us 2,674 classrooms. With the MPS budget of over $1.3 billion, that’s spends over $490,000 per classroom. How could $490,000 be spent? Keeping teacher compensation at the current outrageous $100,000, that leaves $390,000 to spend on all the other needs for the students:

    * Books – $10,000 per classroom
    * Breakfast and lunch for all children – $50,000 (and that would spend $9.25 per child per day, which is far more than necessary)
    * Computer for each child – $30,000
    * School supplies for each child and classroom needs – $15,000 (way more than necessary, but work with me on this)
    * Renting a classroom with utilities and internet – $60,000 (way more than necessary again, but I’m just playing it safe)
    * Transportation? Nope. This is an urban area. Classrooms will be in walking distance for everyone! No more buses. Wheeee!

This still leaves $225,000 unspent. This is an astronomical amount, and all needs have been filled for all children in this classroom. Let’s think about other expenses:

    * We need some administration to take care of paperwork. One person at $100,000 (includes salary and benefits) should be able to oversee at least 5 classrooms, don’t you think? That’s $20,000 per classroom on the administrator.
    * Maybe we need secretarial help as well. Let’s say one person at $50,000 (includes salary and benefits) for every 5 classrooms. That’s $10,000 per classroom.
    * How about a library and some musical instruments? Let’s say that for every 5 classrooms, we need to spend $100,000 per year for those needs.  That’s $20,000 per classroom.
    * Of course we need equipment for some physical education too. How about $50,000 per year for 5 classrooms. That should buy quite a bit of equipment, don’t you think? That’s $10,000 per classroom.
    * The kids also need some fully funded field trips. How about if we give each classroom $20,000 to spend on field trips each year? That ought to buy some very nice outings

This is an additional $80,000 per classroom spent on all the extras, leaving us with $145,000 unspent per classroom. There will be “special needs” children in the district who need additional care, supervision, and resources. But guess what? I’ve got $145,000 left over per classroom, and 2,733 classrooms…. which means almost $388 million district-wide is our surplus even after using the outrageously high spending estimates above. I’ve factored in plenty of spending that isn’t necessary and is likely well beyond what would be needed for each classroom.

This simple exercise makes it painfully clear how bad MPS is wasting taxpayer money. It’s time to force the administrators to get their heads out of their asses and start doing right by the taxpayers and the students. Quit wasting our money on a system that doesn’t educate children. MPS is broken. Time to fix it.

Its NOT about a lack of the money.

I am thinking something like my vouchers-and-charter-schools-for-everybody plan is NOT the right answer either. MY plan is really Grade 9-12 alternative idea. MPS has failed its students before they ever enter High School.

If large number of students are hitting high school with 2 grade reading levels, 2nd grade math levels and with no sense how to properly behave themselves, the problem is with K-6 at MPS. By the time those students enter 9th grade they are – sad to say- a lost cause under the current system. Why

A better plan would be to do something like:

-The entire way that education services are delivered in Milwaukee must be changed. We get too little for too much money. The MPS Leaderships (Schools Board and Administrators) have shown themselves to be incompetent.
- For K-6-ish: emphasize reading, writing, arithmetic and personal behavior at the grade school level. Test early and often to find students falling short; provide remedial opportunities
- For 7-12, have separate parallel Grade 7-12 tracks. Put those falling short in reading, writing, arithmetic and personal behavior into an alternate system. For those not falling short, consider my 21st century ED plan.
-There should most likely be mass firings of the current K-6 teachers and administrators. Most are not competent. The student reading and math numbers speak for themselves.

24 Responses

  1. I think you are low on the salaries. We want to attract the best teachers, administrators, etc., not the cheapest. Add 50% to each of your salary figures (I assume the gym teacher, librarian, and music teacher are covered by the respective ‘per classroom’ figures). That would better cover taxes and benefits. This reduces the left over amount per classroom by $65K, me thinks, to $80K per classroom or a $219 million surplus. Yeah, clearly something is way wrong! Good analysis.

    • It just shows how much of the budget is not oriented toward education service delivery and how much is oriented and building/land and central office overhead.

  2. For $8 million dollars a pop, you can handle more students, reduce discipline problems, provide targeted instruction, cut out the teachers union, and exploit Nevada wage scales by replacing your teachers with remotely commanded unmanned General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers.

    It’s the future of education.

  3. Hmmm…

    http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/96113699.html#comment45165383

    There are too many carrots and not enough sticks.

    It’s time to start penalizing bad parenting. What happened with the inner city boarding schools?

    This story, in correlation with the recent news of the anarchy at Bay View High graduation, (that was/is unfortunately condoned as a “lack of understanding of culture by some commentators), more than illustrates the depth of the problem.

    Take these kids out of their homes. Teach them how to behave properly in society. Test them at 14-15 years old for comprehension of learning concepts. Those who are failing get shifted to technical training. Not every kid should go to university. Not every kid is capable of university.

    We need a dose of reality. People quickly accuse of racism and cruelty; but really, we as a society need to accept that there is an underclass, the lumpen. We will either invest in CORRECT educational practices to make sure that the pool of lumpen remains small.

    Bring back academic tracking. Give the smart kids a fighting chance. Give the remedial kids the attention they need. The ones who don’t want to go to school? Remove them from their homes, penalize their parents, then teach them a trade. And if they still CHOOSE to fail, set them loose.

  4. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/education/14engineering.html

    All 300 students at Clara E. Coleman Elementary School are learning the A B C’s of engineering this year, even those who cannot yet spell e-n-g-i-n-e-e-r-i-n-g. The high-performing Glen Rock school district, about 22 miles northwest of Manhattan, now teaches 10 to 15 hours of engineering each year to every student in kindergarten through fifth grade, as part of a $100,000 redesign of the science curriculum.

    Spurred by growing concerns that American students lack the skills to compete in a global economy, school districts nationwide are packing engineering lessons into already crowded schedules for even the youngest students, giving priority to a subject that was once left to after-school robotics clubs and summer camps, or else waited until college.

    Supporters say that engineering reinforces math and science skills, promotes critical thinking and creativity, and teaches students not to be afraid of taking intellectual risks.

    “We still hear all the time that little kids can’t engineer,” said Christine Cunningham, director of Engineering is Elementary, a program developed at the Museum of Science in Boston that offers ready-made lessons, for about $350 each, on 20 topics, and is now used in all 50 states, in more than 3,000 schools.

    “We say they’re born engineers — they naturally want to solve problems — and we tend to educate it out of them.”
    [...]
    Ms. Morrow and Jennifer Burke, who also teach classes for the gifted and talented, developed the engineering lessons and run them in all four elementary schools.

    They plan multiday projects, often built around classic and popular stories like the Three Little Pigs, and take students step by step through the engineering process: design, build, test, evaluate.

    “They have to have the thinking skills of an engineer to keep up with all the innovation that’s constantly coming into their world,” Ms. Morrow said.

    First graders were recently challenged with helping a farmer keep rabbits out of his garden.

    In teams of four, they brainstormed about building fences with difficult-to-scale ladders instead of doors and setting out food decoys for the rabbits. They drew up blueprints and then brought them to life with plastic plates, paper cups, straws and foam paper.

    Then they planned to test their ideas with pop-up plastic rabbits. If the fences were breached, they would be asked to improve the design.

    “It gets your brain going,” said Elizabeth Crowley, 7, who wants to be an engineer when she grows up. “And I actually learn something when I’m doing a project — like you can work together to do something you couldn’t do before.”

  5. The State Super is also all about the funding:

    http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/97106079.html

    Wisconsin is ill served by its clueless Public Officials.

    BTW, I didn’t vote for the the guy.

  6. Here is an article of Bill Gates money not have much effect.

    http://news.slashdot.org/story/11/07/25/1348228/Gates-Not-Much-To-Show-For-5B-Spent-On-Education

    So, what is the impediment?

    I think all of the 9-12 reform is wasted. The kids are screwed then by a failed systems.

    Reform must be centered on K-7.

    1) Testing/Progress tracking of Reading, Writing, Math, and Behavior (RWMB)
    2) Develop separate tracks for those for whom mainstream RWMB doesn’t work. Get them in these tracks early.
    3) Get gifted students into a gifted track.

    If kids get to 9th grade but to RWMB at 2d grade levels, it is too late. They are lost.

  7. I’d replace the behavior part with a non-English tongue. Not because behavior isn’t important, but because it isn’t necessarily a separate subject–the students HAVE to adhere to certain behavioral norms for the school to function properly, so ‘teaching’ those norms would be incorporated into every minute of classroom time. Meanwhile,the teaching of a non-English language at a young age prepares them to learn other languages later in life, even if the language itself proves useless to the pupils.

    Otherwise, I’m inclined to agree with you.

  8. I don’t have a problem including foreign language training in K-6. Spanish? Mandarin Chinese? Japanese? Also for Milwaukee, Polish and German would work as well.

    I don’t think that special tracking would be needed. The special tracking or alternative ed programs I am suggesting are to to get at the problem of kids entering 9th grade at MPS with 2nd grade reading, writing and math skills along with as seemingly inability to conduit themselves like civilized people. It is too late to fix this at High School…they are lost to us, their human capital is wasted. Also, those people then hurt the education of those not failing.

  9. The beauty of the theory- that learning a second language early in life prepares one’s brain for learning other languages later on- is that, if true, ANY language will do. One can imagine schools near the Canadian border teaching French. Schools near Indian (Inuit, Polynesian) reservations teaching those native languages. Private religious schools teaching their liturgical languages (or ancient Greek or Aramaic, in the case of Protestant schools, so their students can learn the languages the New Testament was written in). In areas with very diverse populations, one can imagine schools which skip the in-class language lessons in return for students learning languages (their family’s original, their religion’s liturgical, even hobby languages like Klingon!) in return for regular testing to make sure they’re making progress.

    As for tracking, my guess is the need for it would depend on the exact curriculum. The best math course I ever took consisted of being handed a textbook and assignment schedule and being told to have at it, feel free to ask questions if I had any. No need for tracking there: the teacher was free to help struggling students and crack down on trouble makers, the advanced students were free to skip ahead.

  10. When i was in 5th and 6th grade, we ended the years with a at-your-pace/your-own-starting-skill curriculum. I loved it and raced through it. Rest of the time I was bored in Reading and received the lowest grades…even though I read more and at a higher level then everybody else.

    For me, I needed advanced math and reading opportunities.

    My public public concern is for the majority of MPS students not graduating and having ed levels of grade school school students,.

  11. Apparently, the guy being interviewed found learning Japanese to be easier because of his Brooklyn accent: Maybe some Brooklyn schools should be teaching Japanese? It’d also be interesting to find out if other American accents lend themselves to learning other languages.

    • I a a bit in awe of the multi-lingual. I didn’t learn a second language as a kid. As an adult, I tried German in college and was a big bad failure! I learned some Spanish, but have retained just enough it to get the girls in the Puerto Rico office to giggle at me over the phone.

  12. “MPS per-pupil spending fourth highest among 50 largest districts in nation”

    http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/mps-perpupil-spending-4th-highest-in-us-1u5rurq-159889555.html

  13. http://www.bootsandsabers.com/index.php/weblog/permalink/mps_lacks_any_bang_for_the_buck#When:16:53:03Z

    –>

    “We were not geared toward driving those dollars back into the classroom.”

    Why not? Why isn’t the entire district geared toward putting dollars into the classroom?

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