Outside Agitators?, Fact Check and What Next

The Animals – “We’ve Gotta To Get Out Of This Place” (click to listen or download).

[Update, 11/22/11: New documents from ULGM have been posted here; new timeline:  Administrative Analysis by 12/4; vote on 12/19.  Too fast.]

The self-selected Board of the Madison Predatory Academy are an interesting bunch.   As the Board of Education considers their request for a non-instrumentality, non-union school charter with “total authority to make decisions related to budget, personnel, curriculum, school policy and overall operations,” I hope we hear more from and about them and their plans  After all, baring extreme circumstances (more on that below), if the charter is granted this will likely be the last time for five years that the Board and the residents of Madison they represent have any say about the school.

I have been doing a little digging and one thing that I find worth noting is that 6 of the 16 (of 17) Madison Prep Board Members I can locate information on, are not residents of MMSD (the one I could not locate information on is a recent transplant and  MATC student).

These are people who choose to live outside  of MMSD, could only send their children to MMSD schools via open enrollment, can not run for or vote in elections for the MMSD Board of Education, yet will have  a great say in the education of MMSD students and the use of MMSD tax dollars.  I don’t like it.

The breadth of the authority they are seeking was topic of recent  good and  interesting piece from Susan Troller on the Cap Times.  I’d like to dispute one statement in the piece and offer one comment (for now).

The statement that demands dispute was from Kaleem Caire, the chief advocate for Madison Prep:

“We  [Madison Prep] can be shut down for failure to make adequate progress or effectively manage our resources. Traditional public schools cannot.”

Of course traditional public schools can be shut down, for these and any other reasons that the elected Board of Education deems sufficient.  In fact, unless the contract with Madison Prep is very different than most charter contracts, for the length of that contract the elected Board of Education will have much, much, much more extensive power to shut down district schools than they will Madison Prep.

The comments are related to the the whole idea of shutting down schools.  The reality is that shutting down any school is very difficult for Boards of Education, particularly elected Boards, but even in Chicago where Mayoral control is in place the political pressure to keep open and renew the charters of schools with well organized PR operations (like Urban Prep) despite dismal achievement measures is often decisive.   I don’t have a lot of faith in this as a tool of accountability with Madison Prep.

This is one reason I think a very thorough vetting of everything about the charter request is in order prior to the vote.   The reports were that the November 28 vote is off, but that December may be the new target.  I’d like see that pushed back.

The Administrative Analysis was strong in some areas, but weak in others (most notably on the education program, transportation and facilities).  The change to non-instrumentality brings a slew of new questions.

Before the process can continue the Urban League needs to submit a new proposal and budget  Their press release of November 17 promised “Copies of the updated plan will be available on the Urban League (http://www.ulgm.org) and Madison Prep (http://www.madison-prep) websites after 9pm CST this evening,” but it has yet to be posted.   The Administration, Board, Community and proposers all deserve the opportunity to give this matter the attention it deserves   Do this right, don’t rush and the chance of regrets is less.

One MMSD Board Member recently said to me that this (and all charters) would be a leap of faith.  My response was that it doesn’t have to be a blind leap.  Eyes open and looking before leaping.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Accountability, Best Practices, Contracts, education

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