By Aaron M. Rodriguez
The premise of the "turnaround team" is primarily grounded in two principles - that ordinary operations are no longer working and that small changes or adaptations aren't likely to rescue an entity from ruin. From 2000-2002, Burger King reached a point of crisis. As its profits dropped 21% and one of its largest franchises declared bankruptcy, it sent shock waves throughout the corporation. Business execs went into survival mode and were willing to break the status quo to institute a turnaround team. At this point, CEO John Dasburg stepped aside as Turnaround expert Greg Brenneman assumed control of the company. The turnaround team would maintain control of the company until they had achieved a full turnaround. When the turnaround was complete, they would relinquish control to a new management team as the company stabilized within its own market.
By 2006, Burger King completed its Franchisee Financial Restructuring Program. And by 2007, the company boasted of 12 consecutive quarters of positive sales, record high quarterly revenues, and a net income increase of 41%. Brenneman, an expert in turnaround management, came from a private equity firm called TurnWorks. He was able to make the tough choices that those too close to the company were unwilling and unable to make. And by doing so, he was able to turnaround a failing corporation.
Rose Fernandez, candidate for State Superintendent of DPI, has suggested implementing a turnaround team of community experts, serving a 3 year term, to address the problems facing MPS. This isn’t to suggest that the current school board hasn’t attempted to address the problems of MPS, but rather the changes that need to be executed should be made from those who have not already failed to produce achievement results. When only 40% of MPS sophomores are proficient at reading and only 30% are proficient at math; when graduation rates have reached below 50% when the national average is 70%; and when 72% of high school students are truant, the plans proposed by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors is not meeting its ultimate objective.
Some have criticized the proposal of a turnaround team for MPS as “ridiculous”, and that Fernandez’ turnaround team wouldn’t be empowered to do anything that the current school board cannot already do. However, this misses the point. The point of making dramatic changes does not lie in increased power. The fact that turnaround expert Greg Brenneman was able to turnaround the Burger King Corporation within 4 years demonstrates that it's a matter of making the right choices.
Within the past 30 years, the state aid for MPS has increased by 58%, and yet today we are witnesses to a crisis in our children’s education. DPI needs a bold personality, a fresh set of eyes, and a new management team that is willing to upset the status quo. Must we wait another 30 years before we make the decision that a turnaround team is necessary to save our education establishment? We need another Greg Brenneman type personality to shake things up. But before we can introduce a turnaround team, we have to come to the realization of what is truly at stake. Our children’s education and future cannot wait for another generation of Milwaukeeans to figure out why our student achievement rates are not improving.