Milwaukee Excellence signs four-year lease in vacant MPS building

Milwaukee Excellence, an independently operated charter school, will have its own high school this fall, under a four-year lease approved Thursday by the Milwaukee School Board for the district’s vacant Happy Hill School building.

Headteachers thanked the board on Thursday for stability in approving a four-year lease earlier this year, unlike a risky last-minute emergency move last August.

“The determination of our location will provide stability and continue to inspire excellence for our students and their families,” said Rodney Lynk Jr., the school’s new CEO.

Stability has been elusive for the school. Lynk stepped into the lead role after former CEO Maurice Thomas was ousted amid allegations that he violated the school’s code of conduct.

And Milwaukee Excellence High School students spent the school year sharing a building with students from Andrew S. Douglas Public Middle School – a move that was secured days before the start of the school year as the student body had become too big for their other location at 4950 N. 24th Street.

The high school students will all leave Douglas at the end of the school year and start the next one at the new location, administrators said.

Milwaukee Excellence is a Milwaukee Public Schools non-instrumental charter school, which means it is operated by non-MPS employees but is granted public school status with district permission. Non-instrumental charter schools purchase or lease their own buildings and must sign a lease with MPS in order to use the MPS buildings.

Since its beginning in 2016 serving sixth graders, the school has added a grade level each year. The school is expected to accommodate 650 students in grades 6-11 this year, including 300 high school students who have moved to Douglas.

Headteachers did not respond to questions from the Journal Sentinel about their current and projected population.

School board member Marva Herndon said she supports the move, preferring the charter school to have its own space rather than sharing a building with traditional students, which she says can limit growth and create tension between programs.

“I want the best for all of these students, but I don’t support this segregation and discriminatory atmosphere that tends to be created in these environments,” she said.

Board member Aisha Carr asked the directors for more information on how the colocation experience went for Douglas and Milwaukee Excellence. Superintendent Keith Posley said he didn’t have that information Thursday but could bring it to a future meeting.

Milwaukee Excellence executives did not respond to Journal Sentinel questions about the roommate experience.

The Happy Hill building that Milwaukee Excellence is moving into was built in 2006 and closed in 2006.

It was last used by the Hmong American Peace Academy, another charter school that moved at the end of the 2020-21 school year, Herndon said. This school built a new $30 million high school that opened this fall.

Over the four years of the lease, Milwaukee Excellence will pay MPS approximately $1.3 million. The lease for the first school year is $318,493, increasing slightly each year to $337,987 in the final year, after which the school will need to apply for a lease renewal to continue using the building.

HAPA, had it remained under lease at Happy Hill, had planned to pay $371,184.00 for the 2022-23 school year, according to a lease agreement posted by the district.

Amy Mizialko, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, called the board on Thursday to make sure they were charging market rate rent. The amount was negotiated between the MPS and school officials.

“MTEA asks that there be absolute certainty that we ask for what the market reveals and that there are no special agreements,” she said.

Contact Rory Linnane at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @RoryLinnane.

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