The Madison School Board voted early Tuesday morning against a charter school geared toward low-income minority students.
Moments later, Urban League of Greater Madison President Kaleem Caire announced to a crowd of emotional supporters that he planned to file a racial discrimination lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department. He also urged the supporters to run for School Board.
“We are going to challenge this school district like they’ve never been challenged before, I swear to God,” Caire said.
The School Board voted against the plan 5-2, as expected, just after midnight. In the hours leading up to the vote, however, hundreds of Madison Preparatory Academy supporters urged them to change their minds.
More than 450 people gathered at Memorial High School for public comments, which lasted more than four hours.
It was the first School Board meeting moved to Memorial since a 2001 debate over the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.
Supporters — about 150 of them wearing blue T-shirts proclaiming, “A dream deferred is a dream denied” — emphasized the district’s 48 percent graduation rate among black students and the gravity of the School Board’s vote.
“For the past 20 years, our schools have been ablaze with failure and we have been unable to extinguish the fire,” said Neil Gleason, a retired state employee and former union president. “Madison will forever remember seven names and the seven votes cast here tonight.”
Opponents, most of them Madison teachers, focused on growing poverty and limited funding for public schools as the driving factors behind the achievement gap. They said Madison Prep supporters hadn’t adequately answered the questions raised by the proposal.
“These students should not have to win a lottery to win an education,” said Karen Vieth, a Sennett Middle School teacher. “This defies the nature of our public schools.”
Prior to the meeting, School Board members Beth Moss and Arlene Silveira said they would oppose the charter school, and they voted against it. Marj Passman and Maya Cole, who was one of two board members who introduced the proposal for debate earlier this year, also said they’d vote against it — and they did, too.
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Ed Hughes had said he couldn’t support the proposal to open the school next year, but could support opening it in 2013, after the district’s contract with its teachers union expires. The union contract requires Madison public school students to be educated by unionized teachers.
School Board President James Howard and Lucy Mathiak supported the proposal.
Moss specifically had concerns about students who need more than one year of remedial assistance to be up to grade level in reading and math and students whose parents can’t attend summer training or fail the parent report card.
“These are the very students who represent much of the achievement gap and need our support the most,” Moss wrote. “I am concerned that the process of selection as described to me will leave out many of these children.”
She also raised questions about the administrative costs and a fee the school would pay the Urban League of Greater Madison totaling $900,000 over five years.
Superintendent Dan Nerad, who opposes the current proposal, also objected to the administrative fee, saying the private funds could offset the cost to taxpayers.
Caire said the board’s opposition means “the diverse community that came out to support wasn’t even enough.”
“So who is the Board representing?” Caire asked. “Certainly not the public.”
Nerad has said next month he will introduce a plan to address the achievement gap between white and minority students.
— State Journal reporter Jeff Glaze contributed to this report.