Mary Burke’s past activities are coming under increased scrutiny now that she is an active candidate for governor. Mary has generously supported different educational initiatives for many years. Her primary focus has been the AVID/TOPS partnership between the Madison School District and the Boys and Girls Club. But her pledge of support for the Madison Prep charter school proposal has drawn the most attention. Since I was more involved in the Madison Prep saga than most, I thought it might be helpful if I provided a summary of what I know about Mary’s involvement.
In December, 2010, the Urban League of Greater Madison presented an initial proposal to the Madison School Board to establish a charter school called Madison Prep. The Urban League described the school as “a catalyst for change and opportunity among young men, particularly young men of color.” The school was intended to inculcate a culture of hard-work and achievement among its students through a host of practices, including single-sex classrooms, an International Baccalaureate curriculum, longer school days and school years, intensive mentoring, and obligatory parental involvement.
Madison Prep was controversial from the start and the initial proposal was adjusted in response to various concerns. By the fall of 2011, Madison Prep was planned to be an instrumentality charter school, like our existing charter schools Nuestro Mundo and Badger Rock. As an instrumentality, all teachers and staff would have been union members.
Around this time, it looked to me like the school would be infeasible simply on the basis of cost. Given revenue limits, I thought the school district could not justify taking money away from our other schools in order to meet the high price tag of Madison Prep. I wrote about that here.
In early October, Mary Burke stepped in and pledged $2.5 million if the proposal won the support of the School Board. I don’t know what other conditions may have been attached to the pledge.
At the time, Mary’s pledge allowed the Board to consider the Madison Prep proposal on its merits and not simply dismiss it out of hand because of its costs. Other than being one of many public speakers at a single School Board meeting, Mary did no lobbying in support of the proposal.
The Madison Prep proposal continued to evolve over the following weeks. Because of Act 10, there was no way to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding to amend the collective bargaining agreement with MTI to adapt the terms of the agreement to what the Urban League was proposing. But strict application of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement to the Madison Prep proposal resulted in a projection of unusually high costs for the school. This led to the Urban League switching to a non-instrumentality approach, which was the final form in which the proposal came before the School Board.
In December, 2011, the Madison School Board voted against the Madison Prep proposal. Since the school was not approved, Mary’s pledge went unfulfilled. She was elected to the Madison School Board five months later and is currently in the second year of her three-year term.