Students at a local charter school returned from spring break to find their entire school had changed, after the charter school company suddenly decided to end its contract with Milwaukee Public Schools.
According to MPS, Universal Companies notified the district in March that they wanted to leave the Universal Academy for the College Bound Webster Campus on April 7.
The company had been operating the school as a charter school since 2013. This is the third Milwaukee school that Universal Companies has left in the last six months.
In November, the company announced that it was returning both the UACB Lee School and UACB Green Bay School to MPS.
Over spring break, the UACB Webster School transitioned back to MPS as well, with only two months left in the school year.
Nearly 650 students in grades six through 10 attend the UACB Webster School, located at 6850 N. 53rd St. on Milwaukee's north side.
The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association has been providing support to MPS teachers at the school who have had to step in.
"I got a phone call a couple of days before spring break from some colleagues who are now teaching at Webster and who are reaching out to me and reaching out to their union for support in terms of, it's 24 hours before spring break and I'm now given the responsibility of building a classroom up from the bottom up," said Amy Mizialko, the Vice President of MTEA.
The change appears to be taking a toll on students this week. According to Milwaukee Police, officers have responded four times to the school in as many days for reports of fights between students and fights between students and staff.
Universal Companies, a private nonprofit based in Philadelphia, notified MPS on March 9that it wanted to terminate its contract at the Webster School that was supposed to end at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
In a letter sent to the district, the company said "Despite our efforts, we believe that it would be in the best interest of the students and families of UACB Webster to transition the management of operations to MPS."
Calls and emails by TODAY'S TMJ4 to Universal Companies went unanswered.
According to federal nonprofit filings from 2014, Universal Companies had an annual revenue of $4.4 million.
According to MPS, it will cost the district nearly $1 million to cover staffing and operations for the remainder of the school year.
The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association says they hope this is the last time they witness a charter school abandon Milwaukee students.
"It's important for people to understand that the reason they got into the business is because they see education as a business and a way to make a profit and when it's not profitable anymore and the margins not good enough anymore, they leave our community," said Mizialko.
MPS says the school will be renamed the Daniel Webster Secondary School going forward.
The school will continue to serve students in grades 6-10 during the remainder of this school year.
The school will ramp up one grade each year to serve students in grades 6–12 by the 2018–2019 school year.
MPS sent a statement regarding this transition that said in part:
"Our highest priority is the safety of our students. When the school was operated by Universal, it had safety aides for the school and we do as well. Additional staff were on hand because we knew students would need assistance adjusting to such a significant change so late in the school year...While there have been a few incidents, we have responded to those quickly and the school climate has improved significantly.
Universal did remove textbooks and technology from the school, but those have been replaced by MPS. We also have provided additional materials to meet the academic needs of students including additional, individualized academic supports for students, an educational service that did not exist prior to April 10."
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