The Urban League’s Madison Prep proposal continues to garner attention as we draw closer to the School Board’s December 19 up-or-down vote on the proposal.
This weekend the news has been the school district administration’s analysis of the Urban League’s current proposal for a non-instrumentality charter school (i.e., one where the teachers and other school staff would be employees of the Urban League rather than the school district and the school would be free of most administrative oversight from the district).
The analysis recommends that the School Board reject the Madison Prep proposal, for two principal reasons.
The first is that, as a matter of policy, the administration is opposed to non-instrumentality charter schools because of the lack of day-to-day oversight of their operations. The second reason is that there does not seem to be a way the school district could enter into a contract for a non-instrumentality charter school without running afoul of our collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI).
While this negative conclusion has appropriately drawn the headlines, the analysis also addressed and allayed some other concerns that have been expressed about the Madison Prep proposal. For example, the analysis finds that the proposed temporary location of the school at the former Mount Olive church would, with some renovations, be adequate for the first three years of the school’s operations.
There have been a number of concerns expressed about Madison Prep’s plans and capacity for dealing with the needs of students with disabilities. The administrative analysis recommends that, if the school is authorized, Madison Prep contract with the school district for case management services, evaluations, and services that exceed the capabilities of the charter school’s special education staff. This seems like a sensible and workable approach to the issue.
No How, No Way to Non-Instrumentality?
But what about the analysis’s two big objections? The first is to the non-instrumentality approach. According to the analysis, “the non-instrumentality charter school model goes beyond freedom and flexibility to a level of separateness that the Administration cannot support.”
I appreciate having the benefit of the administration’s helpful analysis. However, whether the school district should be willing to consider authorizing a non-instrumentality charter school seems to me to be a policy matter that’s up to individual School Board members to decide. This is an area where I think we owe less deference to the administration’s views than is appropriate with respect to operational issues.
My view for some time has been that I would not oppose the Madison Prep proposal simply because it called for a non-instrumentality charter school. Back in February, during the time I was up for re-election, I wrote in response to an MTI candidate questionnaire, “I’m open to considering the Madison Prep proposal. I won’t oppose it simply because the proposal is for a non-instrumentality school.”
Among other issues with a non-instrumentality proposal, it would be a challenge to identify and impose reasonable and adequate accountability measures. But I don’t think we should automatically turn our backs on a charter school model that is specifically authorized by state statute and that is widespread in other states.
A Non-Instrumentality Still Can’t Be Reconciled with our CBA.
The school district has a collective bargaining agreement with MTI that extends until June 30, 2013. The CBA has a work preservation clause that mandates that all teachers employed by the school district must be members of MTI’s bargaining unit. As far as the school district and MTI are concerned, a Madison Prep teacher would be a “teacher” within the meaning of the CBA, whether the school is an instrumentality or non-instrumentality. If Madison Prep does hire teachers who are not MTI members, and does not recognize MTI as the bargaining representative for its teachers, then it certainly seems like this would put the school district in violation of its CBA with MTI.
Here’s an email that I sent to Kaleem Caire on November 18 that describes the issue:
It would be helpful to have your thoughts on how the school district could authorize Madison Prep as a non-instrumentality charter without thereby violating the terms of the district’s collective bargaining agreement with MTI. Specifically, The school district’s CBA with MTI includes an agreement “that instructional duties where the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requires that such be performed by a certificated teacher, shall be performed only by ‘teachers.’” For purposes of the CBA, “the term ‘teacher’ refers to anyone in the collective bargaining unit.” Hence, it appears that all teachers in MMSD schools — including non-instrumentality charter schools — must be members of the MTI bargaining unit.
Can you shed any light on this issue for us from your perspective? Thanks.
I received a response to my email Friday night. You can find it here. In a nutshell, the response makes two points.
The first is a fairly half-hearted argument that the state statute authorizing school districts to enter into contracts for non-instrumentality charter schools trumps or pre-empts any language in collective bargaining agreements that restricts school districts along these lines.
I say the argument is half-hearted because no authority is cited in support and it just isn’t much of an argument. School districts aren’t required to authorize non-instrumentality charter schools, and so there is no conflict with state statutes for a school district to, in effect, agree that it would not do so. Without that kind of a direct conflict, there is no basis for arguing that the CBA language is somehow pre-empted.
The second point the letter advances is that a way out of the dilemma may be provided by recently-enacted state legislation, known as Act 65. This bill allows a school district and union to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) “that reduces the cost of compensation or fringe benefits in the collective bargaining agreement” without thereby triggering the draconian provisions of Act 10, the anti-collective-bargaining legislation that provides that any amendments to CBAs are effectively their death knell.
The letter states in relevant part:
The Urban League believes that Act 65 gives the Board and MTI the opportunity to make changes that will facilitate cost reductions, based in compensation and fringe benefits, to help Madison Prep move forward. And, the law allows the parties to do so in a way that does not adversely impact the teachers represented by MTI or the union security provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
For example, the parties could agree to reduce the staffing costs of Madison Prep. The parties could also agree that a longer school day would not have to cost more. And, the parties could agree that the work preservation clause referenced in the first part of this letter does not apply where the School Board has determined a charter school will be a non-instrumentality of the District, a move that would also most certainly reduce costs. These changes would not be forced upon any existing MTI represented teacher as teachers would apply for vacancies in the school.
I’m afraid I don’t find this argument persuasive. The type of MOU authorized by Act 65 reduces the cost of compensation or fringe benefits specified in the CBA to be paid to bargaining unit members. This may have been applicable if the Urban League were still pursuing an instrumentality approach, whereby Madison Prep teachers would be members of the MTI collective bargaining unit.
The legislation does not seem to have any bearing on provisions in a CBA that address issues other than compensation or fringe benefits, such as the type of work preservation agreement that is the stumbling block here. Since teachers at a non-instrumentality Madison Prep would not be members of the MTI bargaining unit, the CBA has nothing to say about their compensation or fringe benefits.
In short, the legislation does not authorize changes to a CBA that may have some indirect effect on a school district’s costs – such as an agreement “that the work preservation clause . . . does not apply where the School Board has determined a charter school will be a non-instrumentality of the District,” even if that would “most certainly reduce costs.” Instead, the law is clear that the authorized changes must reduce the cost of compensation or fringe benefits paid to members of the collective bargaining unit.
Don’t Blame MTI.
I’m not a big fan of the work preservation clause in the CBA, but I am a fan of our respecting the terms of the contracts we enter into. MTI has bargained for the work preservation clause and is entitled to its protections for as long as the CBA remains in effect in its current form.
It is frustrating that that we seem to be at a place where this provision prevents the school board from authorizing a non-instrumentality charter school, no matter how beneficial it might seem for our students. But I think it’s important to recognize that MTI is not at fault here. It’s unfair to blame the union for either the inclusion of this clause in the CBA in the first place (the School Board had to agree to it, after all) or for declining to consider changes in the CBA at this point, when any change would be a poison pill that would destroy the agreement (other than changes that reduce compensation or fringe benefits in the way that is authorized by Act 65).
It also seems appropriate to note here that I thought the Urban League and MTI tried in good faith to figure out a way for the Madison Prep proposal to proceed as an instrumentality of the school district. For various reasons, that just didn’t work. But the course of negotiations proceeded in a way that was inconsistent with the notions that the Urban League was just trying to bust the union or that the union was just trying to kill the charter school proposal.
What’s the Least-Worst Option for Madison Prep Supporters at this Point?
So, what comes next? From the perspective of the CBA, the best approach has always been to wait a year. If Madison Prep were to enroll its first class in the fall of 2013, then either the CBA work preservation clause would no longer be operative (if the provisions of Act 10 remain in effect) or else the school district and MTI could address the issue in a new CBA (if the provisions of Act 10 are repealed prior to that date).
I understand that Madison Prep supporters do not want to wait another year. That type of delay would be a problem with the Urban League’s planning grant with DPI, which is premised upon a charter school opening its doors in the fall of 2012.
I suppose that if sufficient School Board votes could be mustered for the Madison Prep proposal today – which is very far from a sure thing – there may also be uncertainty created by School Board elections in the spring. It is conceivable that new board members could be elected who have different views on the issue and who might try to put a kibosh on the proposal before the school started operations in 2013.
But given the CBA complications, I don’t see how the school board can authorize a non-instrumentality Madison Prep to open its doors next fall, and I say that as one who has come to be sympathetic to the proposal.
Perhaps supporters could coalesce around a second-best approach whereby the school plans could proceed except that the first class of sixth-grade students would spend their school days in their home MMSD middle schools and gather at the Madison Prep site after school for tutorial/enrichment classes and athletics and co-curricular activities. The school sponsors could continue to stress high academic expectations, mentoring and community support, and parental engagement for their first class of students, even if they would not be able to attend classes at Madison Prep until seventh grade.
A Denouement on the 19th?
As this suggestion indicates, there’s no elegant solution to the issues that continue to surround the Madison Prep proposal, despite the Urban League’s efforts to adapt and respond to community concerns. It’s a complicated situation and a challenging one for us School Board members, who are each trying to sort through all the cross-currents and think through in our own way what’s best for the district and our students. We’ll reach some sort of a resolution at our School Board meeting on the 19th, but I won’t be surprised if – one way or another – the Madison Prep saga doesn’t end there.