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Kaleem Caire

Kaleem Caire, center, and Wade Harrison, left, meet with the State Journal editorial board last week. Caire has done a lot for Madison as leader of the local Urban League. Yet lingering questions over his departure deserve answers.

It’s easy to talk about Madison’s awful record of graduating barely half of its black high school students in four years, among other glaring racial disparities.

Kaleem Caire actually did something about it. And that’s what matters most. Caire’s impact on Madison during his four years as leader of the Urban League of Greater Madison has been profound.

Unfortunately, unanswered questions about his surprising departure and “less than ideal” use of the nonprofit’s credit cards won’t help the cause. It will give supporters of the status quo more leverage to argue against bold change.

The Madison School Board in late 2011 rejected the Urban League’s promising charter school proposal, siding with the teachers union over the Urban League and its many supporters. The proposal for a Madison Preparatory Academy was aimed at low-achieving minority students. It would have offered higher expectations for students, a longer school day and year, more pressure on parents to get involved, more minority teachers, uniforms, same-sex classes and internships with local employers.

The School Board voted 5-2 against this innovative model — with the board’s only black member, James Howard, supporting the League’s plan. Despite that setback, the League now offers an after-school Scholars Academy at Madison middle schools that’s about a “quarter of the way” to doing what the charter school would have done, Caire told the State Journal editorial board last week.

So Caire and the Urban League’s efforts led to concrete and meaningful action. Just as importantly, the Madison Prep plan drew tremendous attention to the seriousness of Madison’s persistent achievement gap. It also led, at least in part, to a new Madison superintendent, Jennifer Cheatham, who is off to an impressive start.

If only it were clear what Urban League chairman Wade Harrison was talking about when he told a State Journal reporter that Caire’s use of the nonprofit’s credit cards was “less than ideal” and mistakes were made.

During a subsequent meeting with the State Journal editorial board, Harrison insisted Caire’s exit is not “sketchy or questionable,” and the credit card activity “was not the catalyst for Kaleem leaving.”

Caire insisted “there is no big drama.” Caire wasn’t asked to resign, according to Harrison. Instead, the discussion about the League’s accounting led to a larger conversation about Caire’s health and demanding schedule, which prompted a mutual separation.

No one is questioning Caire’s energy and commitment. The guy worked an incredibly hard job at a difficult time, often with unfair criticism from Madison’s liberal political establishment.

We’re not asking the League to go line by line through its books. But disclosing the total amount of the credit card charges and what they were for would end speculation and suspicion, helping the League’s mission.

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