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Cost for union teachers could be game changer for Madison Prep deal
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A new analysis (PDF) by the Madison school district shows that the budget submitted by the Urban League of Greater Madison for a pair of sex-segregated charter schools could potentially cost the district an additional $13 million over the schools' first five years.

The new numbers came as a shock to Urban League president Kaleem Caire, who says that Madison Prep may pull out of a tentative agreement with Madison Teachers, Inc., that would require Madison Prep to hire mostly union staff.

"It's become clear to us that the most reasonable path to ensure the success of these kids is as a non-instrumentality," says Caire. "Others on our board want to look at a couple of other options, so we're looking at those before we make that final determination."

One of those options would be to scale back the program, including the proposed longer school days and extended school year.

Non-instrumentality status would mean that Madison Prep could hire non-union teachers as a means of reducing costs. It would also give it the autonomy to set its own policies on everything from military recruiting, LGBT harassment, healthy foods and nepotism.

Caire says the Madison Prep board will determine on Wednesday which path it will take. In addition to seeking non-instrumentality status, Madison Prep could offer a scaled down version of its program.

Caire says it may also look into the possibility of entering into the collective bargaining agreement for the first year, while becoming a non-instrumentality in its second year.

Because the union's collective bargaining rights will be scaled back once the current contract expires in June 2013 -- the end of Madison Prep's first academic year -- Caire says the "formidable obstacle" the union presents will disappear.

School board member Marj Passman says she is skeptical that a structured contract like that could be brokered, adding that it might not even be permissible under Department of Public Instruction rules.

John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers, Inc., declined to comment for this article.

In September, the Urban League agreed to make Madison Prep an instrumentality, thus entering into the district's collective bargaining agreement with Madison Teachers, Inc.

In exchange, the union agreed to drop its opposition to the charter schools.

The new analysis, according to Caire, likely will delay a scheduled Nov. 28, school board vote on the Madison Prep proposal by at least two weeks.

The new figures came after the district decided to use the same budgeting formula used for its other secondary schools. That formula takes into account several factors not considered in Madison Prep's budget.

"It tries to figure how much it would cost if the various positions were analyzed and 'costed out' consistent with the requirements of the collective bargaining agreement,"says school board member Ed Hughes. "And that results in significant increases in costs for the school."

Among the Urban League's chief selling points for Madison Prep has been its insistence that it will help more kids with less money.

The schools would target low achieving minority students, beginning next year with 120 students and growing to 840 students in its fifth year. The Urban League says the school is necessary to bridge the district's 40-year-old racial achievement gap.

How this latest development will affect ongoing talks regarding the school is unclear. The proposal's costs have long been a primary concern among critics.

A generous $2.5 million gift from a wealthy advocate in early October eased the district's burden, with at least two school board members saying it brought them closer to supporting the plan.

Now, according to the new analysis, the per pupil cost to the district could reach $17,000, nearly double the per pupil costs projected in the Urban League's budget.

"All this time we've been getting hammered on how much our things were going to cost, only to find out the district, in its response to us, says that it would cost too much," says Caire.

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