Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New standards and tough goals for region's school districts.

Public school districts in southeast Wisconsin are likely to be hard-pressed to meet new annual performance objectives adopted by the state in connection with its No Child Left Behind Act waiver.  The new objectives are quite ambitious, requiring significant annual improvement by all demographic subgroups of students.  In the latest edition of our annual report, "Public Schooling in Southeast Wisconsin," we find that of all the subgroups and across all subjects, in only one instance – white students in math – does past performance indicate the six-year goal is readily achievable.  All other subgroups in all other subjects would need to dramatically improve proficiency if the goals are to be met.  

This year’s report highlights the host of other new state and federal education policies that will greatly impact local schools, as well, such as the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, new school report cards, changes in state standardized testing, and implementation of teacher effectiveness measures.

Major findings include:

  • A continued five-year gap between southeast Wisconsin students and students in the rest of the state in reading, math, and science proficiency, as measured by the state’s standardized assessment, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.
  • Overall declines in state aid, federal aid, and local property taxes when comparing 2010-11 actual amounts to  2011-12 budgets, coupled with cuts in expenditures.  The 2011-12 budgets for the region’s school districts averaged $665 less per pupil in total expenses and $525 less per pupil in instructional expenses than the previous year.
  • Mostly positive trends in college readiness.  The percentage of students in the region taking the ACT increased 1.1 percentage points, while the region’s composite score declined slightly from 22.8 in 2010 to 22.7 in 2011.  The percentage of AP exams passed by southeast Wisconsin students increased by 1.3 points, and the region’s high school completion rate increased by 0.8 percentage points over the past year.
  • Improved student engagement.  Southeast Wisconsin attendance rates rose slightly over the last year, outpacing a statewide increase. Truancy rates in the region dropped, but remain higher than the statewide average. Dropout rates in the region fell more in the region than across the state as a whole.
  • A 0.8% decline in enrollment in southeast Wisconsin during the past year, representing the largest one-year decline in enrollment in the region in the past five years.  
  • Another year of growing poverty rates.  Almost half of all students in southeast Wisconsin (46%) received free or reduced-price lunch during the 2011-2012 school year, up 11.6  percentage points from 2005-06.

The report is sponsored by Alverno College, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Multiple Listing Service, Northwestern Mutual Foundation, Southeastern Wisconsin Schools Alliance, and Waukesha County Technical College.   

A spreadsheet of schooling data for all districts in the 7-county region is also available.      

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Consolidating dispatch operations in Milwaukee County's South Shore

Would an independent consolidated dispatch center better serve the communities of Cudahy, St. Francis, and South Milwaukee?  Our latest report finds that consolidating dispatch could produce substantial operating and equipment savings, as well as operational improvements, which include the ability to better coordinate responses to major incidents. It also indicates, however, that those potential advantages must be weighed against the current benefits for each city of solely controlling its dispatch operations and maintaining those operations at its own police headquarters.

Because dispatch personnel at the three police departments do far more than traditional dispatch activities, with additional duties ranging from parking administration, to background checks for liquor license review, to collecting bail on warrants, the report includes models that take into account the need for each government to cover those non-dispatch tasks.  

Key findings from the analysis include the following:
  • By consolidating their dispatch operations into an independent consolidated dispatch center, the three cities could reduce current collective annual operating expenditures by approximately $132,000 to $256,000, and produce equipment savings within the next five years of approximately $400,000 to $600,000.
  • If one of the three cities were to perform dispatch services under contract with the other two, or if the three cities contracted with a neighboring jurisdiction for dispatch services, then substantial additional savings could be generated. While the report focuses primarily on creation of an independent consolidated dispatch center, it suggests that contracting for dispatch services could be even more cost efficient because the three cities would not have to lease or purchase space, hire a dispatch center manager, and contract for back office support.
  • Potential cost savings must be weighed against loss of local control and the potential loss of 24-hour staffing at each city’s police headquarters. The report notes that the lack of on-site dispatchers may preclude 24-hour staffing at police stations, which some may argue would produce a decline in the level of police protection offered in each community.
  • If the three cities do not decide to pursue consolidation of their dispatch operations, then they may wish to at least review whether the administrative tasks assigned to dispatchers might be more appropriately assigned to clerical staff.
In the end, the question of whether to pursue an independent consolidated dispatch center – or to jointly contract for this service with a different jurisdiction – must be considered within the context of each city’s short-term and long-term financial circumstances and public safety needs.  An additional consideration is whether the cities may wish to pursue additional public safety consolidation, which may further dictate the logic of consolidating dispatch services. (Our analysis of the possibilities for shared or consolidated fire and emergency medical services in the South Shore will be released early in 2013.)

The report was funded by the three cities and the Greater Milwaukee Committee, with whom the Forum has partnered to facilitate an Intergovernmental Cooperation Council workgroup that is discussing shared services among Milwaukee County’s 19 municipal governments. In May, the Forum released a report on possible consolidated fire services in the five other southern Milwaukee County municipalities.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Enhancing public policy reporting

The Public Policy Forum is launching a new project this fall that is somewhat distinct from our usual portfolio of public policy research, facilitation and deliberation.  It's called the "Excellence in Public Policy Reporting" fellowship, and we see it as our small contribution to enhancing both the quality and quantity of local government reporting in Milwaukee.

The project - which emanates from a grant by the Milwaukee-based Argosy Foundation - is a partnership between the Forum, the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (an online news service that focuses on Milwaukee neighborhoods), and Marquette University's Diederich College of Communication

Marquette will select two of its journalism graduate students each year to serve as Public Policy Reporting Fellows, working 10 to 15 hours per week for NNS covering local government news that is of interest to Milwaukee's low-income neighborhoods.  During the first semester of their year-long fellowship, the students will cover one or two topical news stories per week, while the second semester will be devoted to lengthier, investigative-type projects.  The Forum's role will be to use its knowledge of local government committee agendas and proceedings to guide the fellows on story ideas, as well as to advise them on contacts and research.

The project is aimed at improving the public policy reporting skills of budding journalists by exposing them to the halls of government and a professional journalism environment while in graduate school, and by adding the perspective of Forum staff who make their living researching and analyzing government data and programs.  We also hope that it will foment interest among journalism students in pursuing a career in local government reporting, as opposed to some other specialty.

In addition, we hope the project will fill a void by producing meaningful news coverage of local government issues that otherwise would have gone uncovered.  This is not a criticism of our traditional local news organizations, but a recognition that many have seen their news-gathering resources shrink.  In fact, our ultimate hope is that news stories written by the graduate fellows and published by NNS will be of such high quality and interest that they will be picked up by larger news organizations.

Additional information about the new fellowship can be accessed in this media release by the NNS. Also, details on the Forum's other fellowship - the Norman N. Gill Civic Engagement Fellowship - can be found here.