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In less than five minutes, Madison School Board approves new contract for police in schools

In less than five minutes, Madison School Board approves new contract for police in schools

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Madison School Resource Officer Justin Creech speaks during an interview at Madison West High School in April.

After unveiling publicly a new contract last Friday that would keep police officers stationed in Madison’s high schools through June 2022, the Madison School Board wasted no time in approving the measure Monday night in a special session where there was no open discussion on the lone agenda item. The contract narrowly passed on a 4-3 vote.

The meeting lasted just under five minutes in the McDaniels Auditorium of the Doyle Administration Building. Ananda Mirilli, Ali Muldrow and Nicki Vander Meulen voted against the contract.

The contract now goes to Madison’s City Council. The earliest the council could vote on the measure is June 18.

The vote caps the end of a lengthy process to extend the presence of police officers, called school resource officers, in the city’s high schools. In December, the board approved an amended contract to keep officers in schools after the current contract expires June 30. The proposed language would have given school officials the ability to remove an officer from a school if they found cause. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval and the city argued that the added language was illegal, because such personnel decisions are under the authority of the police chief.

The board held several closed session meetings over the last several months to discuss negotiations with the city over the new contract. The board expressed broad support last month during one of those meetings for working toward having one of the high schools operate without a school resource officer in its building.

Under the newly approved proposal, the Madison Metropolitan School District has the ability to essentially have a pilot program where one of the high schools would not have an SRO starting in the 2020-21 school year. If the board decides to pursue that option, it must inform the city of its intent to do so by Sept. 15.

The district has the option to move down from four to three officers before the start of the 2020-21 school year as well as halfway through the 2020-21 school year. MMSD would have to specify which school goes without an officer and why.

“I feel like we really came to a really good compromise and piloting whether we can take SROs out of our schools,” School Board President Gloria Reyes said. “I think the majority of the board felt that we couldn’t take them out without a plan and that’s essentially what this opportunity is.”

Reyes said there was no need to have a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting because there was a public comment period at the start of the board’s operations work group meeting earlier in the evening. None of the 15 speakers at the work group meeting spoke about the SRO contract.

“We had exhausted all discussion,” Reyes said of there being no public discussion on Monday by board members on the new contract.

Of the few dozen community members who attended, several shouted out their displeasure with how the board held its vote. Previous monthly School Board meetings have included public comment periods dominated by members of the local community organization Freedom Inc., which, along with other speakers, have called on the board to not renew the contract at all.

“We are disappointed in the School Board’s decision to continue to invest in police. We are grateful for our allies and community members who continue to support our No Cops in School campaign,” said Freedom Inc. gender justice coordinator Bianca Gomez. “Black youth and youth of color need and deserve schools that are free of police.”

Several previous board meetings were shut down after disruptions over the SRO contract. On some occasions, the board left the auditorium and finished its meeting in a private room with only a livestream available to the public.

“We heard them,” Reyes said of Freedom Inc. and others who called for SROs to be taken out of Madison schools. “It would be irresponsible for us to completely eliminate the program and take SROs out of our schools given what’s happening in our schools and the voices of other community members. I think we heard their voice and this is a really good next step for our school district (to) really be innovative in how we use our police officers.”

Reyes said the SRO contract was voted on in a separate meeting because the board did not want it to crowd the agenda for its regular meeting on June 24, where it plans to vote on a preliminary budget and likely vote on the hiring of an interim superintendent.

Gomez said Freedom Inc.’s demands will remain the same, and that the group will continue to call on the board to end the SRO contract and completely remove police from schools.

“The School Board continues to choose state violence and we are demanding that they choose our young people, choose our families, and choose our communities instead,” Gomez said.

Getting to four ‘yes’ votes

At certain points during the last few months, it was unclear whether the board would have enough votes to renew the contract.

In the December vote, Kate Toews and Nicki Vander Meulen voted against the contract. Toews voted for the contract on Monday, citing the ability to start a pilot in one of the high schools that was added through the negotiation process.

Muldrow and Mirilli said on the campaign trail before their election wins in April that they did not support continuing to have SROs in the high schools. Cris Carusi, who also was elected in April, said she would support the contract but wanted to eventually phase out the program.

Reyes did not vote on the contract in December, as she believed she had a conflict of interest in voting on SRO issues because she worked as deputy mayor in former Mayor Paul Soglin’s administration.

Now that she does not work in the mayor’s office anymore, Reyes said she was free to vote on the matter. The combination of Toews switching her vote and Reyes, who is a former cop herself and has consistently been supportive of SROs, helped preserve a majority on the board who voted for the new contract.

“I want to see the district really work collaboratively with the city to eliminate racial disparities in the arrest of children,” Muldrow said of the next steps MMSD should take.

Muldrow emphasized that her vote against the contract does not mean she’s against the police in any way.

“I am supportive of no racial disparities in the arrests of students,” Muldrow said. “I am not against the police. I’m against the disproportionality in terms of arrests of black children.”

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Education Reporter

Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/ and at POLITICO.

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