State knew about MPS fiscal woes before tax hike vote



(The Center Square) – Wisconsin’s state superintendent says the state knew about Milwaukee Public School’s fiscal problems before last spring’s tax hike vote but decided to stay quiet.

State Superintendent Jill Underly was on UpFront over the weekend. She said the Department of Public Instruction knew Milwaukee was late with those still-incomplete financial reports and knew the city’s school districts could lose millions of dollars because of it. But she said the department didn’t want to “interfere” with MPS’ quarter-billion-dollar tax hike question in April.

“We’re focused on getting MPS back into compliance,” Underly said. “And we have not interfered in referendums in the past. So, I can’t imagine if I started weighing in on local school district referendums what repercussions that would have, how school boards would feel about that, how superintendents would feel about that,” Underly said.

Unelry said DPI should get credit for going public with MPS’ fiscal problems in May.

“The thing is, we pushed to make this public,” Underly added.

She also distanced DPI from the anger that followed the news.

“And when it comes to financial reporting and it comes to our, you know, the community is informed, we can do better. And we are looking at ways to make that more transparent. But as it is right now, that is something that is between the superintendent and the school board and their community.”

Milwaukee Public Schools still have not yet turned in two required state fiscal reports.

One was due in September, and the other was due in December.

DPI has already withheld $17 million in special education money because those reports are late, and MPS could lose up to $50 million before Milwaukee school leaders can turn those reports in.

“Yeah, we didn’t quite then even know how bad it was,” Underly said. “Like I said before, submitting reports late was not unusual. School districts do that, and then when that happens, we certainly help them out. We found out more or less in late April when we were meeting with them that things were worse than we had expected. So, we stepped up the meetings with them to be daily when we realized they were not making any progress or meeting those reporting goals. That’s when we took the extraordinary step to notify their school board on May 24.”

Underly said MPS can recover from its fiscal woes, but only after it fixes its mistakes and turns in its missing reports.

“I want to be clear, they didn’t lose the money,” she said. “They got the money last year. It’s just going to be withheld as we balance things out for the next school year and fix the accounting errors.”

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