Milwaukee Excellence signs four-year lease for high school in vacant MPS building

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

School leaders thanked the board Thursday for the stability in approving a four-year lease this early in the year, in contrast to a dicey last-minute emergency move last August.  

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

Stability has been elusive for the school. Lynk stepped in the top role after former CEO Maurice Thomas was ousted amidst allegations he violated the school’s code of conduct. 

And Milwaukee Excellence high school students have spent the school year sharing a building with the students of Andrew S. Douglas public middle school — a move that was secured days before the school year began as the student body had outgrown their other location at 4950 N. 24th St. 

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 non-instrumentality charter school of Milwaukee Public Schools, meaning it is run by non-MPS employees but is granted status as a public school by authorization from the district. Non-instrumentality charter schools buy or lease their own buildings and must sign a lease with MPS in order to use MPS buildings. 

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

School leaders did not answer questions from the Journal Sentinel about their current and projected population. 

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

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

Board member Aisha Carr asked administrators for more information about how the colocation experience went for both 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 leaders didn’t answer questions from the Journal Sentinel about the colocation experience. 

The Happy Hill building 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 out at the end of the 2020-21 school year, Herndon said. That school built a new $30 million high school building that opened this fall. 

Over the four years of the lease agreement, Milwaukee Excellence will pay MPS about $1.3 million. The lease for the first school year is $318,493, increasing marginally each year to  $337,987 the last year, after which the school will have to request a lease renewal to continue using the building. 

HAPA, if it had stayed 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 on the board Thursday to ensure it was charging market-rate rent. The amount was negotiated between MPS and school officials. 

“MTEA is asking there’s absolute certainty we are asking for what the market bares and there are no special deals,” she said.