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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.

Protesters opposed to stationing police officers in Madison high schools shut down the Madison School Board meeting Monday evening, causing the board to delay a vote on the school district’s proposed $415.6 million operating budget for the current school year.

A little more than an hour into public testimony, dozens of people advocating for the removal of armed, uniformed police officers, known as educational resource officers, or EROs, from the district’s four main high schools began chanting and yelling at board members, eventually taking a large banner to the stage where the board conducts its business.

Barely audible above the noise in the McDaniels Audition at the district’s Doyle Administration Building, the board ultimately took a vote to adjourn the meeting without getting the chance to discuss and make a decision on the budget, including a property tax levy. Under state statute, a school board must set the levy by Nov. 1.

Kelly Ruppel, the district’s chief financial officer, said there are emergency exceptions to when notice of meetings must be posted, but the district cannot postpone setting the levy beyond Nov. 1, which is Thursday. 

Board member Nicki Vander Meulen said she voted against adjourning the meeting.

“To me, limiting public speech in a public forum is something I’m not comfortable with,” she said.

Prior to the meeting erupting into a protest led by advocacy group Freedom Inc., opponents of EROs said during public testimony that the presence of the officers at East, La Follette, Memorial and West high schools makes students of color and other student minority groups fearful.

Some speakers called for the money spent on EROs, about $360,000 annually, to go toward other needs, such as school counselors.

Several people called on School Board members to resign if the board pursues the recommendations of an ad hoc committee to provide more oversight and accountability for the officers. Others claimed that the board would be supporting racism and white supremacy if the officers remain.

After board President Mary Burke mispronounced a speaker’s name, attendees demanded she correctly pronounce the person’s name. Later, a couple of speakers seemed to taunt Burke by purposely mispronouncing her name.

After one speaker continued to talk after her time for speaking was over, Burke called for a temporary recess.

“When Freedom Inc. writes our movement history, we will make sure all your names are listed as people who supported police harming black and brown youth, and that is how history will remember you,” said Bianca Gomez, a member of Freedom Inc., after the board reconvened.

Gomez proceeded to lead crowd members in chants of “If we don’t get it, shut it down” and “No cops in school” until Burke asked for a vote on adjournment.

Madison resident Greg Murray was the only person to directly comment on the operating budget, made up largely of $308 million in property taxes, before the meeting adjourned.

He said he was supportive of $95,000 that was recently added to create a human resources position aimed at hiring and retaining teachers of color.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. The original misstated the circumstances under which the School Board must adopt its levy. While state law provides emergency exceptions for issuing notifications of meetings, the levy must be adopted by Nov. 1.]

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.