Common Council approves measures allowing sale of vacant schools

Passed after months of delays

MPS administration building

The Milwaukee Common Council passed a measure Friday morning recognizing five private and charter schools interested in buying Milwaukee Public Schools surplus properties as education operators.

MPS administration building
MPS administration building

A proposal to create a school building proposal review committee was also approved.

The passage of both measures, which were recommended for approval by the Zoning & Neighborhood Development committee on Tuesday, ends months of delays stemming from legal friction over how a new state law defines which buyers are eligible to purchase vacant or underused MPS properties.

The city is now able to begin the sale process for seven schools.

MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver submitted a letter of interest to the city earlier this year in an attempt to retain its properties eligible for sale, but City Attorney Grant Langley told the ZND in March the state statute in question blocked MPS interest in the buildings.

Though Milwaukee District 3 Alderman Nik Kovac ultimately voted in favor of passing a bundle of 18 ordinances and resolutions recommended for approval by the ZND that included the two measures related to the sale of MPS surplus properties, he criticized them Friday morning.

“I am objecting to this file, though I realize the people who are supporting the file — I understand why,” Kovac said. “Because there is a real danger of us being sued … there’s a risk on the other side as well. This is an extremely poorly written state statute. They’ve clearly established that up is down by claiming that the largest education operator in the state is not an education operator. There could be legal arguments made on both sides, and I want to make sure that is noted … I’m extremely frustrated that state legislators saw this as the solution to its problems.”

The sale process could proceed one of two ways depending on how many schools are interested in a particular property.

If only one buyer is interested in a certain school, the city can work directly with that buyer to set up showings, obtain information about renovation plans and negotiate a price. If more than one buyer is interested, the city will obtain all the same information, but proposals from each buyer will be reviewed by a yet-to-be-approved building proposal review committee, which will recommend a buyer to the Common Council.

“We are disappointed and concerned that this latest development may limit our ability to continue to grow programs with a track record of success that families in our community are seeking,” said MPS spokesperson Tony Tagliavia. “Moving forward, our goal and our concern is retaining the ability to continue our strategic, planned growth of successful programs.”

Of nine MPS properties eligible for sale, four have generated interest from only one buyer and three have generated interest from multiple buyers.

Rocketship Academy and Right Step Inc. have both submitted letters of interest for Carleton Elementary at 4116 W. Silver Spring and the former 37th Street school at 1715 N. 37th St.

Rocketship Academy could also go up against Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church to buy the former Frederick Douglass school at 3409 N. 37th St.

Of the other vacant or underused properties:

  • Penfield Children’s Center has expressed interest in the former Wisconsin Avenue school at 2708 W. Wisconsin Ave.
  • Right Step Inc. is interested in the former Centro del Nino school at 500 E. Center St. and the former Phyllis Wheatley school at 2442 N. 20th St.
  • Risen Savior Lutheran School submitted a letter of interest for Fletcher Elementary at 9520 W. Allyn St.

Jason Parry, vice president of development and communications at Penfield Children’s Center, said the school hopes to close on a deal with the city to purchase the former Wisconsin Avenue school to house its Montessori Academy.

“We are excited to continue to pursue the viability of the Wisconsin Avenue school for opening the Penfield Montessori Academy,” Parry said.

The academy will open this year in leased space at 3030 W. Highland Blvd. Parry said school leaders plan to purchase and renovate the Wisconsin Avenue school to house the academy in time for the 2017-2018 school year.

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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