The Madison School Board voted early Tuesday morning against a charter school geared toward low-income minority students.
Moments later, Urban League of Greater Madison President Kaleem Caire announced to a crowd of emotional supporters that he planned to file a racial discrimination lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department. He also urged the supporters to run for School Board.
“We are going to challenge this school district like they’ve never been challenged before, I swear to God,” Caire said.
The School Board voted against the plan 5-2, as expected, just after midnight. In the hours leading up to the vote, however, hundreds of Madison Preparatory Academy supporters urged them to change their minds.
More than 450 people gathered at Memorial High School for public comments, which lasted more than four hours.
It was the first School Board meeting moved to Memorial since a 2001 debate over the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.
But the night’s harshest criticism was leveled not at the proposal but at the board itself, over a perceived lack of leadership “from the superintendent on down.”
“You meet every need of the unions, but keep minority student achievement a low priority,” said one parent.
Others suggested the same.
“This vote is not about Madison Prep,” said Jan O’Neill, a citizen who came out to speak. “It’s about this community, who we are and what we stand for — and who we stand up for.”
Among the issues raised by opponents, the one that seemed to weigh heaviest on the minds of board members was the non-instrumentality issue, which would’ve allowed Madison Prep to hire non-union staff.
A work preservation clause in the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the teacher’s union requires the district to hire union staff. Board member Ed Hughes said he wanted to approve Madison Prep, but feared that approving a non-instrumentality school would put the district in breach of its contract with Madison Teachers, Inc.
“It’s undeniable that Madison school district hasn’t done very well by its African American students,” he said. “But I think it’s incumbent upon us to honor the contract.”
Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.