Supporters of a controversial, single-sex charter school Thursday blasted the Madison School District for its opposition to the proposal and said the teachers union is an impediment to improving student achievement.
At a news conference, the Urban League of Greater Madison's president, Kaleem Caire, also said the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy, which would target low-income, minority students, isn't dead and called on the School Board to put "learning before labor" when it votes Dec. 19 whether to approve the charter.
"Our children aren't there to be subjects of teachers and teachers unions," Caire said. "But the decisions that have been made in the Madison Metropolitan School District for a mighty long time have been determined by adults getting what they need first before kids."
Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews declined comment Thursday.
At one point, Madison Prep agreed to hire union teachers, and the union agreed to remain neutral on the proposal. When that plan proved too expensive, Madison Prep revised its plan to use nonunion teachers.
In an analysis released Saturday, Superintendent Dan Nerad recommended the School Board not approve the nonunion proposal because it would violate the district's contract with MTI and the school would be exempt from most district policies with little district oversight.
The union contract, which expires in 2013, doesn't allow Madison to hire nonunion teachers. Exceptions have been made previously through negotiated agreements between the union and the district. But under the state's new collective bargaining law, such agreements would nullify the contract.
"People can have a whole variety of opinions about things in that contract," Nerad said in an interview Thursday. "Nonetheless, that is a clause in that contract."
Caire disputed the district's position, saying a separate state law signed last month allows districts to enter agreements without breaching contracts. That law says such agreements can be made to adjust wages and benefits. District lawyers are looking into whether it could apply to Madison Prep, though it doesn't appear that it does, Nerad said.
Caire also reiterated his criticism of the district for a growing achievement gap between low-income, minority students and their white peers. "It's time for Madison to grow up and recognize it's a different city," he said.
Nerad agreed the district has fallen short on addressing minority achievement.
"We have identified the strategies that we have been focusing on to address the achievement gap," Nerad said. "At the same time we need to have continued conversation about what else needs to be done."