Caire: 'We'll keep going back until the vote is a 'yes.''
The proposal, which was rejected by the school board on December 19, calls for the creation of two gender-specific charter schools targeting low-income, minority students, with an eye on closing the district's decades-old racial achievement gap.
"Our children can't wait," said Kaleem Caire, Urban League president and CEO at a press conference at the Urban League headquarters on South Park Street. He called Madison Prep "a laboratory for success."
The Madison Prep proposal calls for the district to establish the charter schools as non-instrumentalities, meaning they would operate outside of the district's collective bargaining agreement and with a high level of autonomy.
Several board members who voted against the proposal in December expressed concern that voting 'yes' would breach the district's contract with the teacher's union.
Caire expects Madison Prep to open as a private school in 2012, and hopes the school board will back its transition into the district in 2013, since the board will have more wiggle room once the current union contract expires in June 2013.
At that time, Madison Teachers Inc., perhaps the proposal's biggest obstacle, will lose a considerable amount of its political muscle due to Act 10, the recently passed state law that greatly limits the union's bargaining rights.
Caire said the Urban League and the Madison Prep board are seeking a vote ahead of April's school board elections to avoid any perception that they are somehow colluding with potential new members.
Caire seemed confident that school board members Lucy Mathiak and James Howard would support the re-vote, and suggested that Ed Hughes, who has previously voiced support for opening Madison Prep in 2013, would also back the renewed effort.
But speaking to Isthmus earlier Friday, Howard seemed anything but committed to revisiting Madison Prep, which has dominated the discussion for nearly two years.
"We have some very important issues on the table currently, so we have to stay focused on the 26,000 students we're serving," he said. "I don't know if the timing is right for Madison Prep."
When asked why he didn't second Ed Hughes' motion at the Dec. 19 meeting to delay the schools' opening until 2013, Howard replied, "We had not discussed the implications of what that means. I think we have time if we're talking about 2013, to make sure we do it correctly, because we don't know what the rules of the game will be in 2013."
Superintendent Dan Nerad said, "Whether it will move forward I don't know. That depends on whether the motion gets on the floor. I don't have a read on it at this point."
Others aren't as diplomatic. "This is a waste of time and money for all involved," said TJ Mertz, an Edgewood College professor and district watchdog who is among Madison Prep's most ardent critics.
"The votes are not there and will not be there," he continued. "It distracts from the essential work of addressing the real issues of the district, including issues of achievement for students in poverty."
But even if the board does not take another vote in February, the proposal does not appear to be going away. When asked how many times he'll bring it back to the board, Caire said, "We'll keep going back until the vote is a 'yes.'"