The much-contested plan for the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy, a charter school that would serve underrepresented students, ignited further controversy among the Madison School Board, teachers’ union and community when the plan’s leaders announced their intent to employ non-union teachers.
If Madison Prep is approved by the Madison School Board when it is put up for a vote Dec. 19, the teachers the plan suggests the school employ will not be members of Madison Teachers, Inc., the union that currently represents all Madison teachers.
Laura Deroche-Perez, Director of School Development at the Urban League of Greater Madison, which is leading plans for the school, said gaining approval for non-union teachers would be a difficult process.
The school district has said employing non-union teachers is impossible because of a work preservation clause in teachers’ contracts, she said. The clause says a public school teacher must be a union member.
“The district says we can’t [employ non-union teachers] because of contract,” she said. “Our attorney says maybe we can. There’s a question about whether the work preservation clause is even legal.”
Deroche-Perez emphasized the Urban League’s primary interest is in serving underrepresented youth in the community and using non-union teachers is simply a way to make that feasible.
She added the Urban League’s likely way around the work preservation clause would be a new law called Act 65, which allows unions to make changes to collective bargaining agreements if they cut costs.
“If they wanted to, the school district and the teachers’ union could open up their contract and make an exception to the work preservation clause,” she said. “That’s up to the district and the union. Madison Prep is not party to the labor contract.”
Madison Teachers, Inc. could not be reached for comment about the proposal.
The Madison School District has expressed concern that, as a non-instrumentality, or school that employs non-union teachers, Madison Prep would be too separate from the district.
“The [School] Board would have no oversight of the day-to-day operations,” a School Board statement said. “The [Madison Prep] Board would have complete authority to hire and fire staff, direct their work, evaluate their performance and determine compensation.”
The statement went on to say the district could not support a district-funded school that expected autonomy.
“The non-instrumentality charter school model goes beyond freedom and flexibility to a level of separateness that the Administration cannot support,” it said.
Deroche-Perez said freedom from constant district supervision is the goal of a charter school.
“Some of the [district] red tape is getting in the way of kids’ learning,” she said. “Charter schools tend to be more accountable for whatever goals they set because we have a special contract saying we have to meet those goals.”
The district statement, however, acknowledged the pressing achievement gap in Madison that Madison Prep was designed to combat.
“We know more needs to be done as a district and a community to eliminate our achievement gap,” it said. “We must continue to identify strategies … these discussions, with the Urban League and our community, need to continue on behalf of all our students.”