By Aaron M Rodriguez
If one could imagine a candidate that can straighten out the MPS system, Rose Fernandez is that candidate. She is not an insider, not endorsed by the teacher's union, but is a strong advocate for parents because education reform starts with them first. She is a smart, feisty, and a passionate leader who has a history of standing up to powerful lobbyists. As a leader of a grassroots education coalition, Rose Fernandez fought to preserve charter schools that provide easy accessibility for students while preserving the power of choice for parents. She is well known for spearheading legislation that kept virtual schools open despite the mounting pressure from the WEAC to render them unlawful – a feat she once described as “grassroots democracy at its finest.”
Although Rose embraced education reform with grit and resolve, her career was in health care. She has an extensive education in pediatric care and an impressive leadership resume in emergency medicine. During her health care career, she was promoted to Trauma Program Coordinator and also to Patient Care Manager of the Emergency Department Trauma Center. [Anyone familiar with coordinating trauma care knows that it requires good planning, troubleshooting, and rational composure during the most horrific sights of blood and carnage.] While keeping her devotion to patient care, Rose worked hard and stayed focus becoming the President of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families.
Fernandez has generated some attention by announcing her proposal to implement a three-year “turnaround” team. This independent team of seven would be appointed by the City Mayor, County Executive, and the Superintendent of Public Education for the purposes of reforming curriculum, reducing overhead, negotiating teachers' pay and benefits, and determining whether MPS should be partitioned into sectors. This proposal, for obvious reasons, has angered some sitting Milwaukee School Board members including Michael Bonds, who referred to the idea as “almost a mockery.” Opponents like Todd Alan Price, Tony Evers, and Lowell Holtz, have also jumped on the bandwagon intimating that the proposal is “politically charged” or would be an unnecessary “government shake-up.”
However, it is clear that Milwaukee Public Schools have been struggling with performance issues since the 60s. Spending on MPS is growing while graduation rates are declining. Part of the problem is that local government is not run like an efficient business. Businesses that try to survive in a competitive environment without modifying their behavior will fail. And MPS is clearly failing.
A good example of modifying business behavior is Taco Bell. When Taco Bell began to struggle in the fast food industry, CEO Bob Nilsen brought in "turnaround teams" to assess problems and execute solutions. By doing this, Taco Bell strengthened its operations dramatically - improving their service and order accuracy. And within two years, Taco Bell moved from 14th place in quality ratings to 3rd place. Nilsen brought in turnaround teams because he thought unstable performance called for decisive action, and he was right.
In the business world, failing companies sometimes bring in "turnaround teams" in order to stop the bleeding while maximizing the return of their investments. This is an acknowledgment that doing things the same old way will not yield a superior result. Turnaround teams often start by reducing their inventory, cutting back on replacing equipment, re-examining employee performance and benefits, identifying and removing political roadblocks, and trimming off any identifiable fat. During the current economic decline and a record Wisconsin deficit, we can pick up valuable insight about running a tight ship and not throwing money at a failing system.
Fernandez is the only candidate providing a plan bold enough to fix MPS’ massive budget, deplorable graduation rates, and an overall failure to address the educational needs of its students. Those who castigate the approach of turnaround teams as a "mockery" refuse to think outside the box; they've become the problem because they show no signs of grasping the severity of MPS' chronic failure. And for this reason, the Hispanic Conservative endorses Rose Fernandez as the best candidate for State Superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction.