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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes


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(Note: this column appears in Community Newspapers.)

By Charles Sykes



Multiple choice question : What was the most outrageous aspect of the Milwaukee School Board’s adoption of expensive new domestic partner benefits?


(A)   The conflict of interest of board member Jennifer Morales who stands to personally benefit from her own proposal.

(B)   Morales’ comparison of herself to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

(C)   The addition of millions of dollars in new costs only weeks after taxpayers pleaded with the board to cut spending.

(D)   The unilateral granting of a new benefit without even negotiating it with the union.

(E)    None of the above.


I’d argue the answer is (E), although it is admittedly a close call.

Morales’ conflict, after all, is outrageous enough. As the Journal Sentinel reported last week: “Morales and Tina Owen, the lead teacher at the Alliance School , an MPS charter school, went public in 2006 with their lesbian relationship. The two were married in Vancouver, British Columbia , in April, according to an Internet blog posting written by Morales. Wisconsin does not allow or recognize such marriages.

“If fringe benefits were extended to domestic partners of MPS teachers, Morales could gain lifetime health insurance benefits and possibly other benefits that are now offered to Owen, but for which Morales does not qualify as a School Board member.”

But Morales insists there is no conflict. "It's not about me,” she said, “it's not about Tina." But they will take the benefits anyway, thank you.

Morales also tried to portray the benefit-grab as a selfless act of civil rights advocacy. Warming to her theme last week, Morales said that when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. campaigned to eliminate whites-only drinking fountains “nobody said, 'and don't take anything for yourself.' "

But, then again, when he said “Free at last, free at last,” he wasn’t referring to taxpayer-funded fringe benefits.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

MPS administrators warn that the new benefits, which would apply to both gay and straight couples, will cost the district and its taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

By definition, those millions will not go to educate a single child. The benefits, after all, go only to the “partner” of MPS employees – people who will not teach a single Milwaukee child to read, write, or do math. Not a nickel of the new spending will go to buy a single text book; not a cent will go into a classroom.

And that’s the real outrage here: for the Milwaukee school board, it wasn’t about the kids at all.

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