Tension over Madison Prep, a controversial charter school proposal that the Madison School Board rejected in December 2011, appears to linger in this year’s races for School Board. Some wonder if the racial tensions that the school, which was geared toward minority students, have now provoked a backlash against African-American candidates running for office.
In one of the contests, School Board President James Howard, who was one of two board members to vote in favor of establishing Madison Prep as a “non-instrumentality” school, meaning it would operate separately from the school district and employ non-district and non-unionized staff, is facing an opponent who entered the race in large part to oppose such projects.
“We should be looking for solutions within our public schools, not giving away taxpayer dollars to unaccountable, non-instrumental charter schools,” says Greg Packnett, who works as a legislative aide to state Reps. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, and Penny Bernard-Schaber, D-Appleton, and is active in local Democratic politics.
Howard, in a recent interview with the Cap Times editorial board, suggested that Packnett was recruited to run by the Dane County Democrats (Packnett sits on the executive board and has received the group’s endorsement) and others unhappy with Howard’s vote on Madison Prep and threatened by his strong advocacy for hiring more minority teachers and staff.
“In the debates, those are the two things that always come up — Madison Prep and diversity hiring. I’m being challenged on my views on diversity hiring and I’m not retreating on that,” he said.
Howard pins much of the blame on the Democratic Party of Dane County. He says he is puzzled by the involvement by a partisan group in what is officially a nonpartisan race, as well as the involvement of a county organization, whose membership includes people from outside of Madison, in a city race.