Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.

Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Demond Means, "turnaround district" superintendent for Milwaukee Public Schools, speaks at a Milwaukee Press Club event. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photo) Demond Means, "turnaround district" superintendent for Milwaukee Public Schools, speaks at a Milwaukee Press Club event. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photo)

Demond Means, "turnaround district" superintendent for Milwaukee Public Schools, speaks at a Milwaukee Press Club event. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photo)

By James B. Nelson May 18, 2016

Debunking claim that Demond Means said Milwaukee Public Schools district ‘needs to be gutted’

The Milwaukee education community is paying close attention to Demond Means, superintendent of the so-called "turnaround district" for Milwaukee Public Schools. 
 
The position is the result of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program, created by the Republican-controlled state Legislature. The measure directed Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele to appoint a special commissioner with the power to take over a limited number of low performing MPS schools.
 
Some, including the teachers’ union, see Means as leading a de facto takeover of MPS, which could mean the replacement of school leaders, lost jobs for teachers, even the closing of schools. 
 
In November 2015, Abele selected Means, superintendent of the Mequon-Thiensville School District, as the special commissioner, a part-time post for which both say he is not currently being paid. On April 21, 2016, Means laid out his initial plan for the Milwaukee School Board. 
 
Under his plan, specific schools -- which have not yet been chosen -- would be transferred to the opportunity schools district, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article. Students would remain part of MPS, and teachers and staff would keep their jobs and benefits as district employees.
 
MPS board members would retain "many of their statutory powers" under state law. But the plan also calls for the creation of an "independent, autonomous school governing body" at each school. Those bodies would take part in the budget process, and interview and make recommendations on principal appointments.
 
Opponents, including Wisconsin Jobs Now pushed back.
 
The liberal group posted a picture of Means on Facebook on April 28, 2016. The image showed Means holding a sign that read "MPS needs to be gutted!"
 
Unlike a meme, which typically makes clear the message is fake, the Facebook post included this note: "Abele's MPS Takeover Czar Demond Means really said this."
 
Whoa.
 
Did Means really say that? In a word: No.
 
At least there is no hard evidence of it, nor does not track with his public statements and actions.
 
And when we asked Wisconsin Jobs Now Executive Director Martha De La Rosa about the image, she acknowledged the image was a "photoshopped picture." But she argued it conveys what the group believes are Means’ intentions.
 
The original photo actually comes from the 2016 edition of Stritch Magazine, published by Cardinal Stritch University. Means is among a group of alumni profiled. Like the others, he is pictured holding a card with his "personal mission statement." 
 
His statement: "My mission is to close the gap for all students."
 
That’s a far cry from the statement used in the Wisconsin Jobs Now post. When we asked DeRosa about the words it attributed to Means, De La Rosa said they came from a private conversation that two people had with Means.
 
"It’s from a credible source -- actually two people say he made that comment," De La Rosa said.
 
OK. But who?
 
"Unfortunately, I can’t say who," De La Rosa said, adding that "the setting was over some drinks at a bar. He thought he was talking with some people who were on his side."
 
As for any additional evidence, De La Rosa simply offered that she feels the image conveys the intentions of Means and others supporting the Opportunity Schools program. "Look at what he’s putting forward," she said. "You can see where it is going."
 
The record so far
 
To the contrary. Public statements by Means and Abele on the topic have been measured, with Abele stressing that he did not seek the appointment authority and stating he wants the turnaround provisions to be carried out in a targeted manner. 
 
In January, a month after he was appointed to his position, Means notified MPS that he had no interest in taking over vacant or underused school district buildings -- a symbolic gesture that was intended to assure the district he is not plotting a "takeover." 
 
"That was a very important moment in establishing trust and demonstrating that we mean everything we say when we say we want to help Milwaukee Public Schools," Means said in January. "Our intent is to help the schools of Milwaukee."
 
In an interview, Means said he was bothered by the Facebook post.
 
"It is diametrically opposed to the work that I’ve continued to dedicate my career for," he said. "I want to make sure that I help MPS, not hurt MPS."
 
Means said that he didn’t make the statement attributed to him by Wisconsin Jobs Now.
 
"I just don’t use that type of language," he said. "That is the opposite of how we are approaching the work."
 
Our rating
 
A group opposing the "turnaround" program for MPS posted a photo of Demond Means with a statement that says "MPS needs to be gutted." 
 
But Means says he never said those words, the group offers no real evidence he did and acknowledges the photo was doctored to make their point. Indeed, the original words on the photo conveyed a message of helping public schools, not gutting them.
 
We rate the claim Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

Telephone interview, Demond Means

Telephone interview, Martha De La Rosa, Wisconsin Jobs Now

Wisconsin Jobs Now Facebook page April 28, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Abele taps suburban school district superintendent Means to lead MPS turnaround district," Nov. 12, 2015

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Abele, Means opportunity schools plan gets rocky reception," April 22, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Opportunity Schools proposal could be precipice moment for MPS," May 7, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Demond Means says turnaround district not seeking MPS buildings," Jan. 13, 2016

 

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by James B. Nelson

Debunking claim that Demond Means said Milwaukee Public Schools district ‘needs to be gutted’

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up