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Mayor Tom Barrett supports City control of MPS' vacant real estate. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska)

Barrett weighs in on vacant MPS buildings

Although the Milwaukee Common Council passed a legislative package last November calling for the City of Milwaukee to gain control of vacant Milwaukee Public Schools buildings, the issue really heated up last week after The Journal Sentinel ran an article on the subject.

This week, Common Council president Willie Hines and state Sen. Alberta Darling issued a statement and held a join press conference outside a shuttered school to promote the idea of the buildings being used to house charter schools.

MPS replied with a statement yesterday explaining its position on the buildings being used for schools that would draw students and funding out of the district. The statement also took issue with some of the information reported in the paper.

This morning I wondered what Mayor Tom Barrett thought of the discussion and I was able to ask him some questions via e-mail. Here is what he had to say. Do you think MPS should dispose of all its vacant properties?

Tom Barrett: I've already called for the City to control the use of vacant MPS buildings. In fact, I introduced the measure in my 2011 City Legislative Package which was presented to and passed by the Common Council on Nov. 23. When I met with Gov. (Scott) Walker in mid-December, we discussed empty MPS buildings and charter schools and we agreed these are areas we can work on together. I also laid the groundwork with legislative leaders during meetings that same day.

OMC: Can the city handle maintaining and trying to sell even more properties (than it already has now)?

TB: The City can manage the disposition of the buildings. It's a real estate management and disposition approach.

OMC: Is there an argument to be made that it could serve the district -- in terms of accommodating changes in enrollment and changes in needs -- to hold on to a few buildings around the city? Should they divest now and spend money building new buildings when needs arise?

TB: MPS will have ample time to determine the school system's needs for any particular building.

OMC: Does it make sense to sell or lease buildings to private companies that will draw students and money out of the district?

TB: The sale to either charter or choice interests will be permissive, not mandatory. The City may have an interest in a specific property for neighborhood development and/or redevelopment purposes.

OMC: How does that affect the 80,000 kids in the district in terms of fewer services, etc.?

TB: Since 1989, the City has provided $182 million to MPS in borrowing authority for school building improvements. Our City tax levy cost for this in 2011 alone is $12.2 million. In an effort to balance our capital needs and priorities, I eliminated this program a few years back.

If the City gains control over building sales via (state) legislation, I would advocate for sales proceeds to be used to help pay down the levy-supported debt we have incurred on MPS' behalf.



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