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Members of the Madison Preparatory Academy facilities committee pose in front of the former Mount Olive Lutheran Church, the site they plan to use  for the proposed school. Pictured (from left) are: Carrie Wall, Darren Noak, Paul Cuta, Kaleem Caire, Dennis Haefer, Laura DeRoche-Perez and Mike Herl.

Looks like the public won't be finding out much anytime soon about the dollars and cents of the Urban League of Greater Madison's promise to open the doors of Madison Preparatory Academy this fall with private funding.

Organizers of the proposed school say they don't know yet how much money they will need to raise now that they can't count on public funds from the Madison Metropolitan School District since the School Board rejected the charter school proposal.

The proposed charter school's budget last fall set a private fundraising goal of $1.05 million, but Madison Prep organizers say the loss of an anticipated $1.1 million in funding from the school district does not mean the fundraising goal has doubled. They declined to elaborate, but one thing they are looking at is reducing the size of enrollment from the 120 students originally planned for 2012-2013, says Fran Petonic, chair of the school's fundraising committee.

Even when it is determined how much money will have to be raised to open the school this fall, organizers won't be revealing it publicly, says Petonic, who also is president of the Meriter Hospital Foundation. "We'll be having discussions with individuals and foundations."

A widely reported $2.5 million, multi-year pledge by Mary Burke, a former head of the state Commerce Department and retired Trek Bicycle executive, was structured to ease the burden on the school district by reducing the amount it would need to pay the charter school. Madison Prep organizers now are declining to disclose how much additional money has been donated or pledged to the school.

The School Board's 5-2 vote on Dec. 19 against a contract with Madison Prep heightened the controversy surrounding the proposal for a charter school aimed at reversing a race-based achievement gap that has dogged the city's public schools for decades. Even school board members who voted against the proposal acknowledged that something has to be done to better educate students of color.

"It's undeniable the Madison School District has not done well by its African-American students," School Board member Ed Hughes told the packed auditorium at Memorial High School last month. "That's a fact we as a district have to own."

Hughes voted against the Madison Prep proposal, saying he would not support an initiative that would violate the school district's contract with Madison Teachers Inc. by employing non-union teachers.

Other School Board members said they could not rationalize taking money from other programs to devote $1.1 million in 2012-2013, then $2.3 million, $3.4 million, $4.6 million, and $5.7 million in the following years to Madison Prep as enrollment in the charter school grew to a projected 840 students -- a tiny proportion of students enrolled in the district.

The Madison Prep board voted days after the school board's rejection to proceed with its plan to open the school this fall in the former Mount Olive Lutheran Church on the near west side. Founders of the proposed school say that the Madison School District's legacy of failed service to students of color lends an urgency to their mission they will not deny, and Petonic says the proposal's defeat before the School Board only prompted more prospective donors to contact the Urban League.

Madison Prep officials still plan to eventually convert to a charter school, possibly in 2013, after expiration of the school district's current teachers union contract. "The achievement gap is a public problem; there needs to be a public solution," says Laura DeRoche-Perez, director of school development at the Urban League. "But we're not going to wait."

Madison Prep's $2.52 million in income forecast for the 2012-2013 school year included $345,329 in public funds in addition to the $1.1 million in per-pupil payments from the Madison School District. Organizers now are banking only on a $225,000 planning grant awarded by the state Department of Public Instruction that has not yet been received, says Petonic.

More than $58,000 in student activity fees were also part of the original budget, but DeRoche-Perez says it is not likely that families of students will be asked to kick in more money in the form of tuition.

In addition to its operating costs, Madison Prep officials also anticipated needing to spend $1 million to renovate the former Mount Olive site, which it planned to lease for use by the school.

Madison Prep organizers will have a fix on their financial picture by March, and have a final school plan by June to allow for hiring of teachers, Petonic says. That sounds like a short time to raise more than $1 million, but the campaign is well underway, organizers stress. For example, two major fundraising events, co-hosted by Burke, were held in the fall at the Maple Bluff and Nakoma country clubs.

Financial supporters have expressed continuing commitment to Madison Prep since the School Board vote, and will have the opportunity for a final sign-off when the 2012-2013 school plan is final, Petonic says. Donations received are being held in segregated accounts of the Urban League, pending completion of the incorporation of a separate 501(c)3 nonprofit organization for Madison Prep, she says.

And even though it is apparently in full swing, the Madison Prep fundraising campaign hasn't sought a go-ahead from the United Way of Dane County's Capital Fund Raising Committee, which analyzes and coordinates major local capital fundraising campaigns. The idea is to make sure effective fundraising plans are in place before local companies and foundations are approached to contribute and to time campaigns to prevent too many of them from seeking donations at the same time. The procedure also minimizes competing campaigns during the United Way's annual drive in the fall.

Vetting of a campaign by the committee "is highly recommended; typically the business community won't talk to fundraisers until it's approved," says Renee Moe, a United Way vice president. Major funders in town rely on the process to identify campaigns and projects that are likely to succeed.

Madison Prep's purpose -- closing the academic achievement gap in Madison Schools -- is a top priority of the United Way, which raised some $16 million in the community last year. And United Way has partnered for years with the Urban League on the Schools of Hope initiative, which uses volunteer tutors to help at-risk students make the grade. Yet United Way hasn't taken an official position on the charter school plan.

"We've worked to help every single child in the community improve, but supporting individual schools is not typically the way we do things," Moe says. "But we're always open to creative, innovative ways to make sure all children are succeeding."

That's what Madison Prep is all about, says DeRoche-Perez. The mission is not to operate a private school, and not only to change the education of kids who end up attending the charter school. "The goal always has been not only to serve 840 students really, really well, but to give the district a model for strategies it can use to get better results overall," she says.

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