Endorsements: Milwaukee School Board Candidates

The Milwaukee Public Schools Board of School Directors has nine members who serve 4-year terms. Four members will be elected April 4. All the candidates, including incumbents Larry Miller and Annie Woodward, are in contested races.

The state’s public schools have been under assault in recent years by decreasing funding and well-financed campaigns promoting voucher schools — i.e., private schools, including for-profit and religious schools, that drain yet more funding from the public school system. Unlike public schools, voucher schools operate largely free of oversight or accountability, even though they’re paid for by taxpayers. Several for-profit voucher schools in the Milwaukee area have offered substandard education and closed abruptly, leaving students and their parents to fend for themselves in the middle of the academic year.

All the candidates WiG endorses support public education and oppose voucher schools. They also have strong track records in education, including their work on the board, and/or a history of professional and advocacy work that would contribute to the board’s work.

District 4

Incumbent Annie Woodward faces a challenge from MPS teacher Aisha Carr for the seat she’s held since 2009.

We endorse Woodward because she has effectively worked to enhance the learning environment and potential for success for all students.

Milwaukee School Board Annie Woodward
Annie Woodward

Woodward describes herself as a “community advocate with a passion for seeking higher academic standards for every child.”

A native of Alabama, Woodward moved to Milwaukee in 1961. She completed her undergraduate studies in business management and

communications at MATC, Alverno College and Concordia University. She retired from the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services in 2001 after working in mental health and social services positions since 1967.

Woodward says her top priorities for MPS include limiting class sizes, stressing reading skills, and lobbying for equitable funding. She opposes the privatization of publicly funded education. She takes particular exception to the injustice of voucher schools being able to reject special-needs students.

“It’s become a common practice for voucher schools to retain students until the third Friday of September — the cutoff date to receive state funding — and then dismiss students while keeping the public funding,” she charges.

During her board tenure, Woodward helped institute a program to have a parent coordinator at every school. She also supported efforts to create two MPS parent-resource centers, which assist parents with GED preparation and other services.

Woodward previously served on the board of the Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH). She does volunteer work for other community organizations and her church. She is endorsed by AFSCME Local 32, Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Wisconsin Working Families Party and state Sen. LaTonya Johnson.

District 5

WiG strongly endorses Larry Miller, the current vice president of the board, in his race against challenger Kahri Phelps-Okoro.

Milwaukee School Board Larry Miller
Larry Miller

First elected to the board in 2009, Miller has a master’s degree in educational leadership. He taught high school in MPS for 17 years, including two as an administrator. He’s currently an adjunct at Marquette University and an editorial board member of Rethinking Schools, a publisher of educational materials “that emphasize problems facing urban schools, and the central role of public education in creating a humane, caring, multiracial democracy.” He and his wife Ellen Bravo have two sons who graduated from MPS.

Miller says his central focus is improving academic achievement for all by educating the “whole child” — increasing access to the arts, music, physical education and extra-curricular offerings.

Miller also told WiG that he and MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver have taken “a strong stand (on LGBT issues) and we’re not backing down on this” despite whatever happens with the Trump administration. Miller also has joined with the board to support immigrant and refugee students and Black Lives Matter efforts.

Miller is an outspoken critic of what he calls “unaccountable” voucher schools, many of which have “uncertified teachers, no books and little updated technology.” He’s calling for “an immediate audit of their performance” and mandates forcing them to adhere to the same standards and review required for MPS schools.

Miller acknowledges that MPS needs to improve. He supports the superintendent’s “all-hands-on-deck approach, with tutors, best practices and an array of strategies to increase proficiencies.”

Miller’s endorsers include AFSCME Council 32, American Federation of Teachers Local 212, IBEW Local 494, Milwaukee Area Labor Council, MTEA, SEIU Wisconsin, Wisconsin Working Families Party, state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, state Reps. Jonathan Brostoff and David Crowley, Milwaukee County Supvr. Marcelia Nicholson and Ald. Nik Kovac.

District 6

We support Tony Baez, who is running against Jonatan Zuñiga for an open seat now held by Tatiana Joseph.

Zuñiga is a recent UWM graduate who serves as an organizer for the Layton Boulevard West Neighbors. Baez has a track record of leadership and commitment to education, both locally and nationally, that dates back to the 1970s.

Milwaukee School Board Tony Baez
Tony Baez

Baez earned a doctorate from UWM in urban education with concentrations in bilingual education and school equity. He’s recognized as a leader in bilingual and dual-language education. Baez co-founded bilingual programs in Milwaukee and communities nationwide. He’s been a keynote speaker and presenter at many national conferences on topics relating to Latino issues and language education.

Baez has experience as a college and nonprofit administrator, a professor and an author. He taught at UWM and served as dean of liberal Arts and vice president for Academic Affairs at the Milwaukee Area Technical College. He most recently served as executive director of Milwaukee’s Centro Hispano.

Baez wants MPS to increase curricula in science, technology, engineering, arts and math at all grade levels. He told WiG he wants MPS to “embrace bilingual education even more,” since research shows that it’s “good for everyone.”

Baez has been endorsed by AFSCME Council 32, AFT Local 212, IBEW Local 494, Milwaukee Area Labor Council, MTEA, SEIU Wisconsin, Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin AFL-CIO and Wisconsin Working Families Party.

District 7

Paula Philips is running against Joey Balistreri for the District 7 seat now held by Claire Zautke. Both candidates have progressive credentials, but her well-articulated platform and strong roster of supporters give Philips the edge.

Milwaukee School Board Paula Philips
Paula Philips

Philips started her career working with MPS as part of “City Year” and currently works with another MPS partner at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She says those experiences have helped her understand what’s involved “in creating successful community partnerships with MPS,” and she would like to help make that process easier for such partners. She also says she’d strive to increase parental involvement in schools.

Philips wants to expand options such as Montessori, language-immersion and International Baccalaureate programs. She intends to “fight for fair and increased funding for MPS from the state, to increase the resources available for public education in Milwaukee and hold down property taxes for city residents.” She also pledges to champion “the many positive stories that take place every day in MPS, in order to change the false narrative of failure into an accurate story of resilience and growth.”

Philips has a long list of endorsements: AFSCME Local 32, IBEW Local 494, Milwaukee Area Labor Council, Milwaukee Police Association, MTEA, Professional Firefighter Association Local 215, Wisconsin Progress and Women Lead. She’s also backed by: state Sen. Tim Carpenter; state Reps. Jonathan Brostoff and Evan Goyke; former state Rep. Mandela Barnes and Mandy Wright; County Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson; and MPS School Board Director Claire Zautke.