CHICAGO - The Milwaukee Board of School Directors late Wednesday approved a $474 million public school building plan, three-fourths of which would be financed with proceeds from general obligation bonds.
A $366 million GO bond issue is scheduled to go before the voters in February, according to Karen Salzbrenner, spokeswoman for the school system. The measure, passed by the board Wednesday, is expected to receive a rubber stamp of approval from the Milwaukee Common Council before being placed on the ballot, she said.
The remainder of the plan is expected to be financed with energy conservation grants that the school system anticipates from the federal government and proceeds from the city's property tax levy, according to Salzbrenner.
The 10-year building plan, unveiled by School Superintendent Howard Fuller in September, was approved by an 8-to-1 vote. The plan calls for the construction of 14 schools, including one high school, and expanding 14 elementary schools.
Fuller's plan had been criticized by Mayor John O. Norquist, who last week submitted an alternative $184 million proposal to the board. Norquist said Fuller's plan would be "too great" a burden on taxpayers.
The board was not obligated to vote on the mayor's plan, Salzbrenner said. If the bond referendum does not pass, the board would not consider Norquist's plan as an alternative, she said.
One alternative open to the school system would be issuing $35 million of notes to finance its immediate building projects, school officials have said. The note issue currently is included in Fuller's $474 million building plan.
The mayor's proposal called for the construction of two elementary schools and a middle school. It would have been financed with proceeds from $97 million of GO debt and $87 million in existing property tax revenues. The plan would not have required a referendum on the $97 million bond issue because city issues, unlike school board bond measures, do not need voter approval.
In an 11 -page statement to the board Wednesday, Fuller said the mayor's proposal reflects "a clear, unprecedented, and highly undesirable effort to take over responsibility for running the Milwaukee public schools."
In addition, he said Norquist's proposal, which included charges that the school system had not adequately explored less expensive building options, was "to pander, to hold [the school system] up to unnecessary ridicule among some segments of the population."
Fuller also said Norquist's proposal was filled with "contradictions and inconsistencies." For instance, he said, the mayor's plan did not take into consideration most of the board-adopted facility standards on enrollment space needed for educational achievement.
In a written statement on Wednesday, Norquist said he was "disappointed" the board did not give "further consideration" to his plan. However, he said his plan "remains a reasonable alternative to the school board's proposal."
"Over the months we've worked with the Milwaukee Public School administration, we have agreed the pressing needs of the students should be met," Norquist said. "But property taxpayers in this city cannot afford a huge tax increase when there is a reasonable alternative."
Unlike other school districts in Wisconsin that draft their own budgets and levy their own taxes, the Milwaukee school board approves its budget but relies on the city to issue its GO debt.
If the bond referendum is approved by a simple majority of voters, the city is required to issue the bonds and levy property taxes to provide debt service.
Milwaukee has about $375 million of GO debt outstanding, including $29.5 million for the schools. The city carries an Aa GO rating from Moody's Investors Services and an AA-plus rating from Standard & Poor's Corp.