MPS plans 400 full-time position cuts, eight school closures for 2012-13

CREATED Apr. 26, 2012 - UPDATED: Apr. 26, 2012

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MILWAUKEE - The Milwaukee Public Schools District has announced that it plans to cut around 400 full-time positions and close eight schools for the 2012-13 school year.

The district made the announcement in its 2012-13 budget proposal, released Thursday morning.

"This does not mean that there will be over 400 layoffs.  Some of the positions that are eliminated are vacant and others will be reduced due to attrition," said MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton in the budget overview submitted to the MPS Board.

"This is aimed at improving student achievement, but it isn't without significant pain," said MPS Spokesman Tony Tagliavia in an interview with Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Jay Sorgi.

"It increases opportunities for arts, music and physical education.  It recognizes and supports the higher program costs of our specialty schools like Montessori, International Baccalaureate, art, language immersion.  It allocates money to begin the process of redesigning our high schools."

The planned school closures, which MPS said had been announced in December, include Burroughs Middle School, Montessori IB (International Baccalaureate), School for Urban Planning and Architecture, 68th Street (the building, not the programs), 65th Street, Transition Intervention Experience Center, Where Opportunities Require Knowledge Institute and Wisconsin Career Academy.

The proposed position cuts include 160 from schools already closing in 2012, 114 cuts in schools that are operating in 2012-13 and 126 Central Services-related departmental cuts.

The budget statement also proposed 234 full-time cuts in teacher and teacher/coach positions.  104 of those cuts have been slated for schools closing by the end of the 2011-12 school year, while 87 cuts have been projected for schools operating in 2012-13.

According to the budget statement, there are more teacher positions available than the projected position cuts, so there could be more openings for teachers.

Thornton explained that "the number of layoffs will be determined by the need in specific areas.  For example, a general education teacher may be laid off because the need is for licensed math or special education teacher."

The district faces cuts in state funding and it has been unable to make up those cuts by forcing its teachers to pay for a portion of their pension and healthcare.  Most other districts around the state have made up state cuts in that manner.  MPS has an existing contract with teachers and has been unable to get the union to voluntarily accept making the healthcare and pension contributions.

"We're getting ready for our second school year under significantly lower state funding.  We're facing higher costs for next year than we have for the next school year.  Our revenues are flat, meaning we're largely taking in the same amount of money, roughly, than we did last year.  We're also projecting a small one percent decline in enrollment.  All of those things combine for a budget that spends $19.7 million less than we're (proposed on) spending in the current year," Tagliavia said.

The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association recently voted down a proposal to reduce an upcoming salary increase.  According to Tagliavia, the district was not counting on MTEA members passing that proposal.

"Our budget plan never assumed there were going to be those savings to begin with;  however, that would have helped us.  It would have lessened the impact of job cuts."

Tagliavia said that the MPS board would not discuss the budget during Thursday night's meeting, because it was not on the previously-prepared agenda, so by law, they cannot discuss it.

He said that there would be public hearings in May, with a board vote expected in June.