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

Madison School Board members expressed "broad support" for at least one of Madison's four high schools to go without a police officer stationed at the school as part of a new contract between the city and district, according to meeting minutes obtained by the Cap Times in an open records request. 

In a closed session meeting on May 6, the Madison School Board discussed its negotiation strategies with the city over the renewal of a contract that has a school resource officer based at East, West, La Follette and Memorial high schools.

"There was broad support for working towards at least one school with no ERO/SRO," Barbara Osborn, the recording secretary, wrote in the meeting minutes, which the Cap Times obtained Thursday. 

The meeting discussed a recent counter-proposal from the Madison Metropolitan School District, data requests, the current financial arrangement between the city and school district as well as a proposal and timeline from the city. The board also discussed recommendations submitted by the ERO Ad Hoc Committee last fall. 

According to the minutes, discussion points included "feedback from principals" on the SRO issue, though no principals were present. It's unclear from the minutes what that feedback entailed.

Marci Paulsen, the assistant city attorney working on SRO contract negotiations, declined to comment on the matter, saying that the contract language was still being worked out but could eventually go before the School Board and city in the coming weeks. 

A spokesperson for MMSD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday afternoon. 

In December, the Madison School Board approved an amended contract to keep police officers in the high schools after the current contract expires June 30. The added 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 had argued that the added language was illegal, because personnel decisions on officers are under the authority of the police chief. 

A possible shift toward having at least one school without an SRO signals a major development in the role of SROs in Madison, who have been in the high schools since the 1990s. The School Board has faced political pressure from community groups such as Freedom Inc., which have spoken out at dozens of board meetings calling for the removal of officers from the schools.  

Two new board members, Ali Muldrow and Ananda Mirilli, said on the campaign trail earlier this year that they did not support continuing to have school resource officers in the high schools. Cris Carusi, who also was elected in April, had said during the campaign that she supported the contract but also supported eventually phasing it out. 

Mirilli on Friday declined to comment on the possibility of not having an SRO at one of the high schools next year, citing that negotiations are ongoing and that nothing is finalized yet. 

Mirilli said in the last few years there's been a shift in the conversation in Madison about how the needs of marginalized communities are served, which affects the larger debate over SROs. 

"The conditions which relate to decisions in Madison have shifted dramatically," Mirilli said. "So, I can't speak to how negotiations have been in the past, but a sentiment I feel from our mayor, county and alders is that there is potentially more interest in greater collaboration. Some of those instances are around negotiating what is the role of SROs in our schools and our community. That conversation to me feels much more collaborative than I have felt and experienced in the past."

School Board President Gloria Reyes told the Cap Times in April that she did not support removing SROs, particularly without having a plan in place. Reyes did not vote when the contract was up for a vote in December because she was working for the city at the time in then-Mayor Paul Soglin's administration. 

“I strongly believe we have to have them in our schools at this time,” Reyes said in April. “We cannot be making a decision without a plan. We need to figure out what that plan is. If that includes transitioning over the next several years to transition officers out of our schools, let’s focus on that … right now, SROs are very valuable in our schools and I think we have to keep them in our schools until we have a plan of action of how to transition them out.”

Reyes, the board’s first Latina member and a former police officer herself, plans to be more vocal and vote on issues such as the SRO contract if it comes before the board, she told the Cap Times in April.

"The Board is considering a proposal from the City that is based on prior negotiations. It would not be appropriate to comment at this time before the Board has fully considered the latest proposal," Reyes said in an email Friday afternoon. 

Mary Burke, who was School Board president at the time of the vote in December, voted for the amended contract. Kate Toews and Nicki Vander Meulen voted against the amended contract. 

Vander Meulen said previously that she voted against the amended contract because police training on how to work with students with disabilities would be paid for by MMSD and not Madison police. In a recent interview, she said her vote will not change if the contract comes back to the board.

Toews in April declined to comment on how she would vote, saying all communication on the SRO contract would go through then-president Burke because of the ongoing negotiations.

The board has had several closed session meetings since the May 6 meeting, which also was when Superintendent Jen Cheatham told the board of her decision to resign at the end of August.

Having the contract expire during the summer months gives the two sides more time to find a long-term solution before the 2019-20 school year starts. The two could also decide to continue the current contract or come up with another makeshift, short-term plan while details are hashed out. 



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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.