New report points to fiscal successes and challenges within MPS

While Milwaukee Public Schools continues to benefit from significant health care savings, the district faces ongoing fiscal challenges as it struggles to boost enrollment and state support, according to a recent report conducted by the Public Policy Forum.

The report, focused on MPS’ proposed 2015 budget, includes analyses of health care and pension changes within the district. The budget brief also examines other significant expenditures and revenue components in the proposed budget, takes a look at overall expenditure and revenue trends, and dissects new initiatives proposed by district administrators.

On a positive note, the budget brief points to substantial health care savings the district reaped before and after the adoption of Wisconsin Act 10, which severely limited the collection bargaining power of public-employee unions.  

“MPS’ proposed 2015 budget is largely a ‘good news’ document that reflects the district’s astonishing success in reducing fringe benefit costs and that avoids staffing reductions and other cuts in school operations that have detracted from educational quality in the past,” the report states. “In fact, despite the district’s stagnant revenue base, there also is room to invest in quality improvements in areas like the arts and teacher development.”

Challenges highlighted in the budget brief include those MPS faces because of structural difficulties – challenges that have persisted since the Public Policy Forum released a comprehensive review of district finances in December 2012.

“Simply put, MPS lacks the wherewithal to keep up even with inflationary increases in personnel costs without enrollment gains or greater support from the state – two variables that are mostly beyond its control,” the budget brief notes. “While redesigned health care benefits have generated substantial near-term savings and allowed the district to alleviate inflationary pressures over the longer term, those pressures still remain and must be addressed in the context of an extremely uncertain revenue picture.”

The Public Policy Forum, which is based in Milwaukee, also raises several questions about the future health of MPS in the brief, such as whether MPS leadership can continue finding ways to reduce fringe benefit spending without compromising teacher quality.

For the full budget brief, visit www.publicpolicyforum.org.

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