Mary Burke and Madison Prep

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.  

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6 Responses to Mary Burke and Madison Prep

  1. I was under the impression that Mary Burke withdrew her pledge of financial support when it became clear Madison Prep would be a non-instrumentality charter. This post seems to imply her “pledge went unfulfilled” only because the proposal was voted down by the Board.

    • I don’t know what, if anything, happened with Mary’s pledge between October and December. I do know that there was a lot going on at the time and the situation was quite fluid. The school district’s administrative analysis of the Madison Prep instrumentality proposal was released on November 12. This was the document that explained how expensive Madison Prep would be as an instrumentality bound to comply with all of the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. The analysis showed the cost of the school would essentially be out of reach. The Urban League responded by switching to a non-instrumentality approach, which brought the cost down. The administrative analysis of this non-instrumentality proposal was released on December 5 and the School Board vote was two weeks later, on December 19.

  2. During her campaign for School Board, it was never exactly clear to me what the sequence of events was, but I got the impression that her pledge was contingent on a number of things. She was clear that Board Approval was one of them,but not — in my memory — as clear on whether being an instrumentality was a requirement. Either way, from various things said and unsaid during that campaign I believe that it was more a case of terms not being met than a decision to withdraw support. Reviewing news stories and perhaps videos of forums might make this clearer. I also think that in terms of the wider context it needs to be remembered that the MPA proposals were put forth over two years and that of that time there was only approximately two months when there was an active proposal for an instrumentality.

  3. Mad4Madison says:

    Ed –

    Since the whole MadPrep issue will come back to light based on Mary’s decision to run for higher office, something jarred in my thick skull. After the vote, you posted a blog entry entitled “We Blew It On Madison Prep” (or something like that) and even wrote this:

    “I reluctantly voted against the motion because I was unwilling to violate the terms of our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers.”

    Do tell why you voted for another contract that had the same provision in the contract? By definition, if one “blows” something, one tends to try to undo the damage.

    • Back in 2011, our collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with MTI required all teachers working for the school district to be members of MTI. This could not be reconciled with establishing a non-instrumentality charter school, because the teachers and other staff at the school would be employees of the operator of the charter school and hence could not be members of MTI. Last year we amended the CBA so that the school board could vote to exempt some number of teachers or other staff working in our schools from the requirement that they belong to MTI. So this provision of the CBA is no longer an absolute bar to the to the establishment of a non-instrumentality charter school.

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