Greater Milwaukee Committee opposing MPS referendum

Failure to articulate spending plan for $252 million request is something community should not accept, organization says

The Greater Milwaukee Committee issued a statement Tuesday formally opposing Milwaukee Public Schools‘ $252 million property tax referendum.

In public letter, members of 76-year-old civic organization, which is comprised of some of the city’s most notable nonprofit, community, and business leaders, said a “lack of transparency” surrounding the referendum left the committee unable to support it.

“While the longstanding challenges at MPS cry out for direct action and significant support, the lack of transparency surrounding this referendum and the failure to clearly articulate a measurable plan for how these additional financial resources will improve student outcomes leave the GMC unable to support the current referendum,” reads the statement. “Without a clear roadmap toward progress in achievement, the process outlined over the last few months appears to be an endorsement of the status quo, something the community should not find acceptable.”

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If the April 2 referendum is approved by voters, the increase in MPS’ property tax rate could amount to an extra $2.16 per $1,000 of valuation, which would result in an extra $432 in taxes on a home assessed at $200,000.

The tax increase would be far higher for larger commercial buildings. For example, Irgens’ 833 E. Michigan St. office building, which was last assessed at roughly $90.45 million, could see the MPS portion of its tax bill increase by more than $200,000.

MPS officials say the funding increase is needed to prevent about $200 million in budget cuts – cuts they say are due to state-imposed property tax caps that have made it impossible for the district funding to keep pace with inflation and have enough resources to compensate and recruit teachers and serve students.

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But critics, including the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), which has not only asked its roughly 2,000 members to vote against the measure, but is funding an ad campaign opposing it, say the district is simply asking for too much money, especially as the district’s test scores indicate that students are not making academic progress.

In addition, the nonprofit Wisconsin Policy Forum has raised questions about the referendum, stating in a recent analysis of the ballot question, that “legitimate questions can be raised about how well district leaders have set the stage for such a big ask from voters.”

WPF suggests MPS leaders might strengthen their cause by “sharing a formal plan for continuing to adjust facilities and staffing levels in accordance with reduced enrollment.”

“Local residents and businesses should know whether the extra amount they are being asked to pay might be a pathway toward improved offerings and outcomes,” the report states, “as opposed to simply another effort to stave off programmatic reductions and financial instability.”

Regardless of the results of the referendum, GMC members state that “the community must be prepared to invest time, energy, and resources into the tens of thousands of students who attend MPS schools.”

“The GMC pledges to do just that. GMC members will build on our long-standing commitment to the public schools in our community, and we will extend our hand in partnership to MPS in hopes that the board and administration are ready to collaborate in ways that deliver stronger outcomes,” the GMC statement reads. “The problem solvers of tomorrow reside in our community today if we can successfully inspire and prepare them for what lies ahead.”

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