Protest at Madison School Board meeting

Opponents of police officers in Madison schools disrupt a Madison School Board meeting Monday evening, resulting in the board adjourning before it could pass a $415.6 million operating budget for the 2018-19 school year.

A day after protesters shut down a Madison School Board meeting and two days before the board must, under state law, have a budget approved for the current school year, the board’s president rejected the possibility that protesters will again shut down the board when it takes up the budget again on Wednesday.

“We will get this done,” said Mary Burke. “Absolutely.”

Protesters who favor removing police officers stationed at the Madison School District’s four main high schools refused to stop chanting phrases including “If we don’t get it, shut it down” on Monday and at one point stood before the stage where the board meets and unfurled a banner saying “No cops in school.”

The protesters were mostly members or supporters of the Madison-based social justice group Freedom Inc.

After nearly 90 minutes of testimony and disruption, the board voted to adjourn. It scheduled a meeting for 1:15 p.m. Wednesday in McDaniels Auditorium at the Doyle Administration Building, 545 W. Dayton St., to plow through the rest of Monday’s agenda, including the 2018-19 budget and an item to receive a report from an ad hoc committee on the school-based officers, known as educational resource officers, or EROs.

Burke said that since Wednesday’s meeting is a previously unscheduled, “special meeting,” there will be no public comment period. At past meetings when EROs were on the agenda but a time for public comment wasn’t, protesters have either not shown up or simply observed, she said.

Freedom Inc. co-executive director M Adams and gender justice coordinator Bianca Gomez said members of the group will be at the meeting Wednesday but declined to say if they planned to disrupt it. They sought to draw attention to the disproportionate number of blacks in Dane County who are arrested or otherwise caught up in the criminal justice system.

“We plan to continue to show up on behalf of black and brown students,” Gomez said. She said those students are being unfairly targeted by police.

As to whether that means group members would try to keep the board from doing its work, “that’s something the School Board would determine” by its actions, including whether it agrees to “completely removing police from schools,” she said.

“If the board is not doing these things, then the board is being disruptive,” Adams said. Among the group’s other demands is for the city to evaluate EROs through its 5-year-old Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative, she said.

Burke declined to speculate on how the board might react if protesters refuse to let the board do its work but didn’t rule out the possibility of having Madison police at the meeting in addition to district security.

Responding to concerns about EROs from Freedom Inc. and others, the board created an ad hoc committee early last year to study the ERO program, which has long placed one officer in each of the city’s four main high schools. After 20 months of work, the group recommended last month that the officers remain in schools but with more oversight and tighter restrictions from the district on what they are allowed to do.

Burke said that in six years on the board, no other board meeting has been shut down by protesters, but that she is interested in looking at board protocols for its meetings, including those having to do with security and the timer used to mete out the three minutes of speaking time afforded each speaker — and specifically, whether the timer can be seen and heard during meetings.

“At this point, I think everything is on the table,” she said.

Earlier this month the board toyed with and then dropped a proposal to reduce the time speakers have to address the board to two minutes from three, but only when more than 20 people want to speak.

The board values public input, Burke said, but “we also have to have an environment in which we are able to conduct the business of the board.”

While state law mandates school districts have a budget and property tax levy in place by Nov. 1, Department of Public Instruction spokesman Tom McCarthy said only the latter is subject to a “hard deadline.”

What happens if they don’t?

“That’s an interesting question I cannot answer,” he said.

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