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MPS Failed to Follow State Law by Not Filing Financial Reports With City Clerk

The Milwaukee Public Schools board has failed to follow a state law requiring the district’s board to give its annual report to the Milwaukee city clerk, a Wisconsin Right Now investigation has found.

The city clerk could only document receiving the annual report one year since 1999, and that was in 2003-04.

The city comptroller says that his office received the financial reports from MPS every year since since 2001, but the last report that office received from the district was in 2021-2022.

That means it’s not only the state Department of Public Instruction that never received MPS’s most recent statutorily required fiscal report.

The City of Milwaukee has not been able to produce a record of it either. And it’s a state law.

That development comes after the state Department of Public Instruction penned a highly unusual public letter to MPS, revealing that the district had also not turned in key financial documents to the state oversight agency, including the 2023 annual report, also required by the same state law. Questions have also been raised about why no officials told the public about the missing reports before they passed a $252 million referendum this spring.

State statute 119.44 (1), titled “board report,” says, “The board shall file its annual financial report with the city clerk and shall send a copy of the report to the state superintendent.” It falls under the subchapter, “FIRST CLASS CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT.”


However, Milwaukee City Clerk Jim Owczarski confirmed to WRN in an email on June 11 that MPS has not done so for many years.

We asked him, “We heard that the city clerk’s office does not have any financial reports filed from MPS for 2023 or 2024. Is this accurate? If you have them can we have them? Also, when is the last date in which you received an MPS board filed annual financial report? Also, what was the due date of the last MPS board financial report to the city clerk’s office?”

Jim owczarski

He responded: “Correct, we have none from either year. Our holdings, per the Municipal Research Library, are:

Titled ‘Annual Financial Report’: 1975-76 through 1983-84

Titled ‘Comprehensive Annual Financial Report’: 1984-85 through 1998-99, and 2003-04. Nothing since.”

He added, “There is no due date of which I’m aware. Broad audits like this one, the City’s uses the same CAFR acronym used by the later MPS filings, lag by about six months allowing for the books to close.”

Those years span the administrations of four mayors, but mostly former Mayor Tom Barrett, as current Mayor Cavalier Johnson took office in December 2021. Barrett was mayor from 2004 to 2021. John Norquist was mayor from 1988 to 2004, at which point Marvin Pratt was interim mayor.

We also reached out to the City comptroller, Bill Christianson, to see if they went to that office instead.

He wrote, “Yes, the City of Milwaukee Comptroller’s Office regularly receives audited Annual Comprehensive Financial Statements from MPS, with the most recent one being for their 2021-2022 fiscal year.”

We asked what other past years were received and he said all of them since 2001. We asked, “Did they miss any other ones since 1999 or do you have every year through 2021-22?”

“After checking our files it seems we have every MPS ACFR going back to 2001. It is likely that the Comptroller’s Office had been receiving their ACFR’s prior to 2001 as well, but those may be saved in a different file or were shared with us in paper form,” he wrote.

It was not immediately clear which year the state law went into place.

We’ve reached out to MPS for comment.

We asked Johnson’s spokesman Jeff Fleming, “Did anyone at city obtain and review MPS annual financial reports the last few years? If no why not?” He responded, “No idea. Is there a legal requirement that the city review a separate governmental entity’s finances?”

We responded, “No but there’s a legal requirement they submit it (to city clerk) and that wasn’t done so am wondering if there was another way it was accessed.”

Fleming responded, “I have no information from the Mayor’s administration. You might check with the City Clerk and the Comptroller.” We have also reached out to the comptroller for comment [Note: we updated this story with his response, which we received 6/12].

In its letter to MPS, DPI wrote that, as of April, MPS still hadn’t turned in the following financial data,

• FY23 Auditor Aid Certification and Auditor Fund Balance – Due September 15,
• FY23 Annual Report – Due September 22, 2023
• FY23 District Audited Financials – Due December 15, 2023
• FY24 Certified Budget Data – Due December 1, 2023

The district then withheld millions of dollars from the district, the superintendent resigned, and the governor and legislature called for audits, but differed in their approach.

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