By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 11, 2015 at 7:46 AM

State Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga are pushing ahead with their plan to take public schools that you, as a citizen and taxpayer, own – run by a school board that you elect – and hand them over to a bureaucrat at, get this, Milwaukee County!

And, while you're tempted, surely, to suggest I'm a conspiracy theorist, below is the email from the suburban pols, whose districts include slivers of Milwaukee, along with a "talking points" email attachment.

It went out late Friday afternoon to "Leaders in Education," presumably when most media wouldn't be watching, though to make sure media – and voters – didn't see it, the two asked the info be withheld from journalists ... because that's apparently how their vision of democracy works (if they even believe in democracy, since they advocate undermining a popularly elected governing body that represents voters with a political appointee that represents the county executive and exactly no one else).

"From: Rep.Kooyenga

"Sent:Friday, May 8, 2015 3:41 PM
To: Rep.Kooyenga; Sen.Darling
Subject: Governance Structure Prosposal (sic) to Provide New Opportunities for Milwaukee

"Dear Leaders in Education,

"We appreciate your continued advocacy and interest for education in Milwaukee. We have attached a summary of the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program for your review. We are interested in hearing your feedback on the proposal as we are open to making modifications that will strengthen the reforms ability to have an impact on our great community. Since we are still making changes to the bill, based in part on your feedback, we ask you do not share with the media at this point in time.


Senator Alberta Darling and Representative Dale Kooyenga"

Opportunity Schools Partnership Program in Brief

"Problem: The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has identified 55 Milwaukee Public Schools that fail to meet expectations which represent 83.3 percent of all failing schools in Wisconsin. The consequences of these failing schools are a significant factor in contributing to Milwaukee’s declining economic and social health. The following brief provides a summary of a new governance model to provide new opportunities for Milwaukee Public Schools, parents, students and the community at large.

"Solution: The Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP) will create a new governance structure in MPS to free students from nonperforming schools. 

• OSPP shall be run by a Commissioner for an at will term appointed by the Milwaukee County Executive

• The Commissioner shall operate independently from the MPS Board

• The Commissioner shall receive parallel authority to the Board, but shall be free of all state and local regulations except for safety, health, special education, and non-discrimination laws 

• The Commissioner shall have two core tasks: 

o Partnerships: Develop and manage relationships for the effective deployment of wrap around services that are either revenue neutral or generate savings 

o Schools: Develop and manage a portfolio of nonperforming campuses and turn the campuses around either through direct or indirect management School Incorporation shall occur through a three step process

•  DPI must provide a list of all MPS schools that "fail to meet expectations."

• The Commissioner shall assess the qualitative nature of quantitatively eligible schools: 

o The commissioner should provide qualitative analysis of the schools to determine what, if any school to incorporate (Qualitative factors shall be defined by the Commissioner, but shall include factors such as school leadership, staff composition, and community interest in pursuing a new approach)

• Strategic School Partnership Matching  

o The commissioner may directly manage or solicit offeers (sic) from charter operators and private schools that participate in school choice with outcomes that significantly outperform MPS

"Operational Background

• Funding: Per pupil payments will be funded from money that would otherwise flow to MPS.  The per student funding would be dependent on the type of school selected by the Commissioner which may be a traditional public school, independent charter (2R) or choice.  

• HR: All employees at a school incorporated may apply for a position in the new school. However, such an application waives current and future privileges to be represented by any union as all employment within OSPP is at will.  

• Licensure: All OSPP employees shall receive non-portable licenses as requested by the commissioner (criminal background checks & federal minimums are retained)

"Scalable Implementation

• 2015-2016: the commissioner develops partnerships and selects up to 3 schools to incorporate into the program

• In 16-17 the first school or schools shall operate

• In subsequent years the Commissioner shall manage partnerships, existing campuses, and may incorporate up to 5 new schools per year"


Why is it that these schools "shall be free of all state and local regulations except for safety, health, special education, and non-discrimination laws," when these same schools do not get the same consideration when they're part of MPS?

After all, if a key to success for these schools will be that freedom – and surely Kooyenga and Darling believe that to be the case or they wouldn't include the provision – why haven't we allowed MPS to try running them with the same freedom?

No, the answer is further down in the talking points. You know, the part where it says public, citizen-owned public schools can be handed over to private operators.

This isn't about success for Milwaukee children. It's about privatization. And while you can point to a very select few voucher schools that outperform MPS schools, you can also point to at least as many MPS schools that outperform voucher schools.

So, why does this legislation only target public schools and not equally or even more poorly performing charter and voucher schools? Where is the remedy for kids who are being failed by their publicly funded – but unaccountable – voucher schools?

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin know that per-pupil funding keeps MPS running thanks to an economy of scale. The funding for nearly 80,000 kids at about 175 schools comes into the district to educate all those children. I understand as an MPS parent that not every penny allocated for my children goes solely to educating my children; it costs more to educate some kids than others, because they're human beings, not widgets.

They also understand perfectly well that once they've removed a certain number of schools from the MPS portfolio, the district is no longer sustainable. This, despite the successful efforts of district to get its finances back on track.

It's no secret that that number is in the high 20s. So, according to information in the talking points, Darling and Kooyenga are planning for a complete MPS collapse within about six years, with – it seems safe to say – some seriously difficult years in between for our children.

And then what? Where is the solution for how and where 80,000 kids will be educated in year seven; 80,000 who will have been failed by the State of Wisconsin over the intervening years as it bleeds dry public school budgets?

And who will provide special education assessments and services to private schools when the district is dead?

And where will the adult education and youth education and recreation programs run by the district go? Are they kaput too?

THIS is the solution for Milwaukee?!

And what's this about?

"OSSP shall be run by a Commissioner for an at will term appointed by the Milwaukee County Executive."

Seriously? The County? Of Milwaukee? Running schools? For an at-will term at the pleasure of a single elected official?

I'll just let that dangle so you can mull it over for a while.

In the meantime, read Andy Martin's post on the subject here.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.