Education Round-Up: Union Leader Out, Voucher Testing In

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public3 Comments on Education Round-Up: Union Leader Out, Voucher Testing In

So much going on. It’s hard to keep up. So here’s a round-up of a few things on the local education scene that are actually pretty important, but haven’t gotten much attention in recent days:

MTEA executive director is out: Stan Johnson, the executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, is out, continuing a period of difficulties and instability in leadership of the union.  Johnson resigned last week “for personal reasons,” according to a union spokesman who said there would be no further comment. But Johnson’s abrupt departure suggested it was not an amiable matter.

Johnson was previously president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the union organizations which has been at the heart of education politics in Wisconsin in recent decades. He was one of the most widely known teachers’ union figures in the state.

 In a period when all teachers’ unions have been facing a lot of challenges, the MTEA has had had the complication of continuing leadership issues.  Tom Morgan was named executive director in 2007, succeeding long-term union leader Sam Carmen. But Morgan died of a heart attack while on a vacation cruise in March 2010. Since then, the union went through several interim directors and a search for a new executive director that ended with no candidate being selected Carmen came out of retirement for  several months and it was during Carmen’s return that the MTEA reached a four-year contract agreement with the Milwaukee School Board. Johnson was hired after Carmen returned to retirement last fall.

With Johnson gone,  long-time union staffer Sid Hatch has been named acting executive director. Separately, the union is installing a new president this week. Mike Langyel, who was president the last two years (and was president from 1991 to 1993 as well), has retired and Bob Peterson, a veteran teacher who is nationally known for his work on social justice issues and his founding of the Rethinking Schools education publication, is the new president.

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New Counsel, Continuances, and the Sixth Amendment — Lawyers Don’t Always Have to Take the Case as They Find It

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Public, Seventh CircuitLeave a comment» on New Counsel, Continuances, and the Sixth Amendment — Lawyers Don’t Always Have to Take the Case as They Find It

The Seventh Circuit had an interesting new decision a couple weeks ago on the Sixth Amendment right to choice of counsel, United States v. Sellers (No. 09-2516).  Among other notable aspects of the case, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor sat on the panel.

Here’s what happened:

Sellers initially retained attorney David Wiener to represent him against the drug and gun charges.  Apparently, shortly after Sellers engaged Wiener, Wiener approached attorney Michael Oppenheimer and asked him to appear as secondary counsel. Oppenheimer, by all indications, was a stranger to Sellers, having never been hired by him. Nevertheless, Oppenheimer filed an appearance, Wiener did not. (3)

Trial was set for May 12, 2008.  On May 7, Sellers requested a continuance so that he could proceed with counsel of his choice, David Weiner, who was scheduled to try another case in state court on May 12.  The district judge ultimately moved the federal trial back to May 19, but that conflicted with yet another case Weiner was scheduled to try in state court.

On May 16, Sellers informed the court that he wished to fire Oppenheimer and retain new counsel.  On May 19, the date trial was supposed to begin, Sellers informed the court that he had a new lawyer, but the new lawyer would only file an appearance if a continuance were granted so that he could adequately prepare for trial.  The court denied this request, requiring Sellers either to proceed pro se or with Oppenheimer.  Sellers chose Oppenheimer, and he was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

The Seventh Circuit, however, held that the denial of a continuance violated Sellers’s right to counsel of his choice.

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Tony Evers: Trying to Throw High Heat at Voucher Schools

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public3 Comments on Tony Evers: Trying to Throw High Heat at Voucher Schools

Tony Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction, has been making waves by going on the offensive against proposals to expand the use of private school vouchers in Wisconsin. In addition to what has been said in news stories such as this one in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I’d offer three thoughts that struck me as I read the lengthy memo Evers offered to members of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance this week.

One: Legally and politically, this is almost surely idle thinking, but what if the private schools that are in Milwaukee’s voucher program had to face the same kind of consequences for getting weak results that charter schools and, of late, conventional public schools face?

Charter schools, which are independently operated, publicly funded schools, are generally given five-year contracts by a government body. (In Milwaukee, charter contracts are granted by the School Board, city government, or the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.) It is not unusual for a charter school to be closed if it is not getting good results at the end of five years, or sometimes sooner.

In the conventional Milwaukee Public Schools system, school closings are becoming common. Tightening finances and declining enrollments are key reasons, but getting bad results is also a factor. And a list of schools, including several major high schools, are under orders, based on federal policies, to take steps such as overhauling their programs and staffs and getting new principals because of low student success.

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A New and Important Wave of MPS Principals

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Milwaukee Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton has released the first wave of his selections for new principals for Milwaukee Public Schools. As I described in a Journal Sentinel column a few weeks ago, Thornton is facing an unusual number of principal vacancies, in large part because of retirements triggered by the changes Republican Gov. Scott Walker is making to educational spending and public employment benefits.

One high-profile position on the new list: Mike Roemer was chosen to be principal of Ronald Reagan High School. The south side school, with its full international baccalaureate program, has been one of the brightest success stories in MPS in the last decade. Its high-profile founding principal, Julia D’Amato, retired several months ago. Roemer was the assistant principal under D’Amato and has been acting principal since she left. The school community lobbied hard for him to get the job.

Overall, the list of new principals includes four existing principals who are getting new or amended assignments and 17 people being promoted or hired to principal positions. The reassigned principals are appointed at Thornton’s discretion, but the promotions and new hires have to be approved by the School Board. A board committee will take up the recommendations at a meeting Tuesday.    

The list can be viewed by going to this Web page and clicking on “5-24-11 AFP Blue Book Advance Copy” on the right side of the page. Then click on Item 3 on the left hand side of the document that comes up.

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Five Leaders: A Serving of Big Problems, Flavored with Optimism

Posted on Categories Milwaukee, Public, Speakers at Marquette2 Comments on Five Leaders: A Serving of Big Problems, Flavored with Optimism

Being a major leader means never having to say you’re pessimistic. President Jimmy Carter paid a big political price in the late 1970s when he said he thought there was a malaise affecting America. President Ronald Reagan made his optimistic outlook on the future – it’s morning in America – a key to both his political success and his legacy.

So say whatever you want about the specifics of what is going on, but look to the future with hope. It may well be a good approach to personal life. It’s just about a mandatory approach to political life.

That seems like a good perspective on one of the interesting exchanges at  “What Now, Milwaukee? A Forum on the Future of Wisconsin’s Largest City,” a discussion Wednesday at Eckstein Hall that brought together five power players in the city’s life. Mike Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, moderated the 90-minute session before a capacity audience of over 200. The session was co-sponsored by the Law School and the Milwaukee Press Club.

The conversation quickly focused on the need to change the overall low rate of educational success in Milwaukee. There was discussion of budget cuts, rising class sizes, the chronic fighting between advocates for different streams of schools, the inability of the community to come together, and the need to give parents information on every school. Not much light was shed on how to turn the trends in  more positive directions.

But when Gousha asked if educational quality will be better in Milwaukee five years from now, Tim Sheehy, the president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, answered, “Dramatically.” Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said yes. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett agreed. Milwaukee School Superintendent Gregory Thornton said, “Without question.” And Julia Taylor, president  of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, concurred.

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Graduation: A Time for New Beginnings

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We have a number of graduations to celebrate in our family this month, and there is a lot of excitement about the future. The buzz surrounding the start of a new and exciting chapter in the graduate’s life causes me to ask: Why don’t we join them and embrace the new and exciting things that could occur in our lives? I’m not talking about the concrete changes that we will see our graduates make — going off to a new school or starting a new job. I’m talking about creating our own changes to pave the way for a better professional future.

It’s not a bad idea to reflect upon our work as lawyers with an eye toward positive change. That change may be in the way we relate to our co-workers. That change may be in a new commitment to volunteer in the legal community. That change may be a commitment to incorporate a greater level of organization into our practice. That change may be a new routine to stay informed about recent developments in the law. That change may be taking time to become a better listener. That change may be setting aside time to appreciate how rewarding and stimulating our work is. It doesn’t really matter what the change is. The important thing is that we take this opportunity to reassess how we, like new graduates, can take affirmative action that will provide us with a new and fulfilling future.

I recently read a great quote from Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did.”  This is the type of statement hundreds of graduates will hear over the next few weeks. It’s time for all of us, new graduates and seasoned practitioners, to embrace this time of new beginnings.

Will Three- and Four-Year-Olds Keep Free Busing to Kindergarten?

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Carrying broad and deep cuts, including almost 1,000 fewer employees, the budget proposed for Milwaukee Public Schools for next year has left at least one member of the School Board, Annie Woodward, suggesting that the board should just refuse to pass the budget. It may seem tempting to other members, but the board is nonetheless on track to approve a budget soon.

Amid all the cuts, one proposal that has attracted particularly strong opposition in public hearings: Eliminating free busing for three- and four-year-old kindergartners. Representatives of Montessori schools and the Starms Early Childhood Center have passionately argued for the importance of starting children in their programs at early ages. Busing is critical to getting the young children to school, they argue. School administrators estimate that there will be more than 2,700 three- and –four-year-olds bused next year, based on current practices.  

Board members are clearly sympathetic to keeping the busing. Two amendments to restore it will be considered at a meeting tonight. There’s one major problem: Neither of the proposals specifies where to come up with the almost $2 million to cover the tab for the young kids. The budget already calls for spending the most MPS can spend legally.

Official information on a proposed budget amendment from board members Terry Falk and Peter Blewett simply says, “$1,942,569 needs to be identified to fund this amendment.” An amendment proposed  by board member Larry Miller favors charging families for the busing, unless the children qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The proposal does not estimate how that might work and, as MPS budgeters said in their comments, “Further investigation is needed on legality of charging for transportation.”  

Overall, MPS has been trying for years to cut the amount it spends on busing. The figure hung around $60 million for quite a while, but has been dropping. For 2009-10, it was $56.8 million. The budget for this school year is $55.1 million. Including eliminating the three- and four-year-olds from busing, the proposed amount for next year is $51.3 million. That’s a little under 5% of the total MPS budget.

National Momentum for School Vouchers

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public2 Comments on National Momentum for School Vouchers

A couple years ago, I would have said that the growth prospects for school voucher plans were not  good. Proposals to allow students to attend private and religious schools using public money had died in several states, court rulings had not been favorable in places such as Florida where there were strongly worded constitutional bans (“Blaine amendments”) on giving public money to religious schools, research on student achievement in Milwaukee, the nation’s main show case of voucher use, had shown nothing impressive, and  Congress had pulled the plug on a voucher program in Washington, D.C.

The landscape is much different now, thanks primarily to the 2010 elections and the wave of Republican victories.

There’s legislative action on multiple fronts in Wisconsin. Bills to lift the enrollment cap on Milwaukee’s voucher program and to allow suburban schools to accept city of Milwaukee voucher students are moving ahead. A proposal to phase out the family income limits for voucher recipients has brought  controversy and seems likely to morph into raising, but not eliminating, the income standard. And this week, Gov. Scott Walker said he supports expanding the program to include Racine, Beloit, and Green Bay.

It is useful to put the local developments in national context. Here are three examples of what’s going on:

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Tierney to Deliver Memorial Address

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Milwaukee Bar AssociationI hope that many folks reading this post will elect to attend the Milwaukee Bar Association’s annual Memorial Service: it will be held this Friday, May 6, at 10:45 a.m., in the Ceremonial Courtroom (Room 500) of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. It is an event that a number of us have come rarely to miss—largely because we enjoy it, as I explained in a 2009 blog post noting the remembrance by Tom Cannon of his father, Judge Robert C. Cannon, L’41, and in a post last year anticipating Mike Brennan’s remembrance of his own father, James P. Brennan, L’60. The Memorial Service is an opportunity to remember attorneys who died with the past year, after serving the profession and thus the larger society: some names and careers will be familiar to a particular attendee, whereas others will be unknown to him or her—but in this context the latter are not much less meaningful. I see that this year’s Memorial Address will be delivered by Joseph E. Tierney, III, L’66. That is certainly a longstanding name in this region’s legal profession, as discussed previously in posts on this blog, including Gordon Hylton’s description of the legal education of the first Joseph E. Tierney, L’11 (that’s 1911), and my own account of Joe III’s remarks, at a law school event, concerning his late mother and father, Bernice Young Tierney and Joseph E. Tierney, Jr., L’41. I much look forward to Mr. Tierney’s remarks (no doubt remembering among others his late partner, Paul Meissner, who died within the past year) and to the rest of the special session of court, which is the form that the Memorial Service takes.

Investiture of Hon. James A. Wynn, Jr.

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Hon. James A. Wynn, Jr.

It was my great pleasure to attend the investiture of Jim Wynn (L’79) as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The ceremony at the federal courthouse in Raleigh, North Carolina, drew an enormous crowd, well into the hundreds, requiring that the large majority of those in attendance view the event in various courtrooms in the building through a video feed.

It was no great surprise that Judge Wynn was nominated and confirmed as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals. He had distinguished himself as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as a law student at Marquette (during my days as assistant dean), as an officer in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, as a lawyer in private practice, as a leader of the American Bar Association and the Uniform Law Commission, and as an appellate judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals and North Carolina Supreme Court. Not a bad record for a fellow who grew up in a small farming community in the Coastal Plains region of North Carolina.

Judge Wynn was characteristically gracious to those of us from Marquette who were present. Dean Joseph Kearney was included among the speakers, and not only were his warm congratulations and greetings from Marquette well received, but his punch lines got especially good laughs. (Example:  “But I am presumptuous enough to bring greetings from the past. For I have brought Judge Wynn’s student file with me—I would say that I do this by the power vested in me as dean, but I may be about to violate the FERPA law concerning educational privacy.”)

Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Sykes (L’84) was seated at the front of the courtroom, just in front of the presiding Fourth Circuit bench, every one of whose members was present for Judge Wynn’s investiture—the first time in anyone’s memory that there was a full turnout of the court for such an event. Judge Wynn’s classmates Joseph Yana, John Rothstein, and Dan Dennehy also had prime seats in the ceremonial courtroom, as did I, rubbing shoulders with the Wynn family and with leaders of the North Carolina bench and bar. Marquette trustee Chuck Svoboda, himself a North Carolinian, was also in attendance, as were Reuben Daniels (L’78) and Florence Johnson Raines (L’91).

It is always a pleasure and satisfaction to see a Marquette lawyer achieve impressive professional goals. The pleasure is especially great in the case of Jim Wynn, for the qualities of excellence, faith, leadership, and service etched into the hearth in the Aitken Reading Room are so clearly etched into Jim’s character as well.