There is more than enough talent, creativity, resources and goodwill in this community to solve the tough issue before the Madison school board tonight regarding the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy.
Let's start by giving everyone the benefit of a doubt, and assume that there are no bad actors here.
On the one hand we have the Urban League under the dynamic leadership of Kaleem Caire. With its proposal for Madison Prep, the Urban League is saying several things that we all need to hear. They're saying that it's unacceptable that only one of two African American males in Madison graduates from high school while almost 90% of whites do. They're saying that while sincere efforts have been made to address this, those programs haven't been nearly effective enough. And they're saying that as a community, they value education, and particularly want young men to grow up with a love of learning and the personal discipline it takes to be successful.
On the other hand, we have a school district administration and board that I believe really cares about the achievement gap. But they also have a broader responsibility to both taxpayers and the teachers union with whom they have a contract. Turning over millions of dollars of taxpayer money without having oversight on how those funds are spent isn't responsible, while allowing nonunion teachers to teach at Madison Prep could very well void the entire contract with MTI.
So, let's accept that there is a legitimate dilemma here, and that we can't just choose to go one-way or the other. What's needed instead is a third way, another choice, a way to create Madison Prep without voiding the contract and with the necessary oversight by elected officials over the use of public dollars.
What I would suggest is that the board not vote tonight. Instead, they could appoint a special executive to work for, say, six weeks, to develop a solution that creates Madison Prep within the context of the union contract. As I looked around the packed room at the memorial service for LaMarr Billups last Sunday, I counted dozens of people of good judgment and good will who could fill that roll.
What we can't afford is to come apart as a community over this. Kaleem Caire and the League are right. We need to do better by all of our kids. And he may also be right that the more rigorous, disciplined environment of Madison Prep might be part of the answer. When a leader like Kaleem steps forward like this, we can't slam the door shut. We need to find a way to make it work. We're the kind of community that can.
This is not the time for bomb throwers -- it's the time for statesmen and women.