RACINE — Racine Unified has scaled back support for an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in part because of the organizing student group’s political activism, district Superintendent Ann Laing said.

Youth Empowered in the Struggle organizes the event, which includes community service, a rally at King’s Racine statue, social justice workshops and an evening community program/dinner. YES is the student arm of Voces de la Frontera, a nonprofit that supports Democratic causes like immigrant rights and collective bargaining and has taken heat for what Republicans see as Democratic-leaning get out the vote events.

For the groups’ MLK Day events, Unified has previously provided student breakfast, lunch and transportation to community service sites and the rally. But for the coming 2013 event, the district has eliminated such support, citing bus driver concerns about student safety and the alleged political leanings of Voces, Unified spokeswoman Stacy Tapp said.

While Unified works with many community groups, Laing said Voces is the only group that “has come in and expected us to support a political agenda.”

Voces officials have said the group — and the MLK Day event — is nonpartisan. But Voces, through YES, this spring introduced a yet-to-be-approved Unified student bill of rights that includes items about collective bargaining and in-state tuition rates for undocumented students. Voces has also hosted controversial get out the vote efforts where Unified students go door-to-door on election days encouraging voting. Republicans cried foul after the June recall election, saying school time was misused and Democratic-leaning wards were purposely targeted. Voces denied the claims.

Meanwhile Unified has gotten complaints and open records requests from across the country, all relating to the district’s involvement with YES and Voces. Those things take staff time away from issues like raising student achievement and they make it so the district “can’t partner with Voces” anymore, even when celebrating King, Tapp said.

“We are a nonprofit. We are a public organization. We can’t get involved in politics. We cannot go down that road,” Tapp said. “We’re trying to do the right thing here and support our students for the day and do it in a way that politics aren’t part of that day.”

The district asked YES students to submit a “student-led,” Voces-free proposal for partnering with Unified on the MLK Day event, Tapp said. She added Unified is not comfortable partnering directly with Voces but would still work with its student groups.

A proposal came in Thursday, Dec. 13 but still included Voces as an event partner, was printed on the organization’s letterhead and referred district staff to Voces’ youth organizer for follow up.

Laing on Friday, Dec. 14 rejected that proposal as not being “student-led” but said students could submit another one, according to her rejection email.

But Alexia Gates, a Voces intern, senior at Horlick High School and YES leader, said students did write the proposal. Students, parents and others also filled nearly an hour of public comment time at Monday’s School Board meeting, urging board members to disregard right-wing sentiment and reinstate support for the MLK Day events.

“We take hours out of our day to plan this event and events like it,” said Rebecca Davis, a junior at Horlick High School and a YES leader. “We are asking you to invest in this day because it does mean so much to us.”

The board took no action Monday though, because the decision is up to Laing and because open meetings law requires advance notice of action items, Tapp said. Students disappointed with that result interrupted the meeting later to demand action and re-submit their Thursday, Dec. 13 proposal requesting Unified support.

The interruption was met with gaveling from board President Dennis Wiser as a security guard asked students to leave.

No new proposal had been submitted as of Tuesday night, Tapp said.

“I’m hoping to hear back,” she said. “The district doesn’t want the event to go away.”

But Gates said no new proposal is forthcoming.

“We’re not resubmitting our proposal at all,” she said. “We’re not going to separate from Voces. We are a youth branch of Voces ... Without Voces there wouldn’t be YES.”

Asked how the event would continue without Unified support, Gates said, “We’re going to fundraise. We’re going to reach out to other organizations and groups and our churches and parents and students and we’re going to pull it off.”

MLK Day support weakens

• The MLK Day event carries a price tag of about $17,000, according to Voces, and funding became a larger issue in October after conservative Milwaukee radio host Mark Belling criticized the United Way for giving Voces money. The United Way then distanced itself from Voces and said it would not provide money for the MLK Day event even though it gave $950 last year. United Way President Dave Maurer did not return phone calls or emails. Students and parents speaking to the Racine Unified School Board on Monday accused members of giving in to a “shock jock” for not providing MLK Day support.

• The Racine Community Foundation does not intend to fund this year’s event, a loss of about $7,000, according to Voces. Fund officials were not available for comment.

(18) comments

Urban Pioneer

Now that Voces and YES have successfully elected John Lehman and Barack Obama RUSD can safely make their split with this group of Lefty activists. Bravo to Mark Belling for taking on this issue. I know that teh Racine Taxpayers Association has been trying to bring attention to this matter for a while!


Considering Dr. King's commitment to human rights, it's pretty obvious that he'd be found standing shoulder to shoulder with Voces. As is frequently the case with the 'white-friendly', 'sanitized' & emasclated version of Dr. King - created to assuage white culpability for centuries of oppression - has little to do with his actual beliefs. It is quite evident that Dr. King would have stood in opposition to our wars of aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia (and Obama only knows where else), would have stood proudly with "Occupy", and would have been outspoken in support of immigrants rights issues alongside Voces de la Frontera. To claim to 'honor' Dr. King's memory without standing foursquare for the issues close to his heart is just pure hypocrisy.


I'd support public funding, actually a special assessment to support Voces events, with the stipulaton that the INS attend and check immigration credentials. It would save us money in the long run!


Maybe these youths need true leadership in there lifes. As union life is no way to function in society anymore.


To the young and courageous people of YES, I commend your efforts, commitment, and involvement in our community. Keep your faith despite the efforts of members of the Racine community who want to see you fail and limit your DREAMS.

A los jóvenes y valientes de Yes, encomiendo vuestros esfuerzos, el compromiso y la participación en nuestra comunidad. Mantenga su fe a pesar de los esfuerzos de los miembros de la comunidad de Racine que quieren ver que no vaya y limitar sus sueños.


Maybe there is a reason for people asking questions about RUSD support for these events.
The latest quote from Stacey Tapp was "We are a public organization. We can't get involved in politics"..."She added...Unified is not comfortable partnering with Voces". Well, now it gets kinda confusing. Back on June 21, 2012 in a JT article both Ann Laing and Sue Kutz seemed real comfortable in accomodating the student get out the vote effort even though it was aknowledged that they were aligned with Voces. Again, the get out the vore was one thing, but the fact that they were part of Voces was known and accepted in June. So, what is it? We were with the students and Voces---- before we were against the students and Voces. The whole deal back in June had a real smell to it, and now in December that smell is not getting any better. I think it's time for the JT to start doing some reporting and take a look back using open records request. Would be good training for your cub reporters.

Cincinnatus Racine

When is RUSD going to stop supporting the Voces de la Frontera partisan get out the vote program in democratic wards?


There should be no public money involved in this, aren't we broke?


With voices officially a union. Sure WEAC, SEIU would be honored to support these young union brothers and sisters. To expect the taxpayers to pay for thier union activities is outrageous


What is interesting would be who is asking for the records request. My guess would be its a particular political party. Of course no bias there. Or how about conservative republicans placing out of state observers in predominantly Democratic wards. No bias there. Or the local radio stations dominated by conservative opinion radio ( I can't even call it "news"radio as they do) No bias there. Or all the free air time given to conservative causes in violation of the law. No bias there.


Why do you blame those who are exposing the illegal actions of RUSD? It is their right to demand accountability for their tax dollars. Abolish RUSD!


Mike_Carey....Based on the content of the JT article, as a taxpayer I think you would have to agree there is a better way to use already scarce funding. Having one "non-profit" which is funded BY THE TAXPAYERS (rusd) fund another "non-profit" (voces) is simply a way of laundering/transferring money. I applaud anyone, or any group, liberal or conservative who challenged RUSD on this and saved taxpayer funding.


Wasn't really Commenting on the actions taken, mor on Bellings comments of bias.


So no-one is going to mind if Americans for Prosperity or Promise Keepers gets financial support from Unified? Of course they will. And conservatives have a problem with Voces and YES being involved in the demonstrations. Voces doesn't do anything non-partison. With all the fussing about Unified not having enough funds for the students, this is something that students could get funding from the community. UNIFED: Stick to getting the kids proficient in reading, writing and math. Until Racine students are in the upper 75% for that, I suggest you stay out of the rest.


The continual bickering over RUSD, their abuse of taxing authority, and complete failure in their mission to educate children to maintain/expand the tax base indicates that RUSD must be abolished. RUSD is a failed government controlled corporate monopoly that is destroying the Community.

21st Education is done via computers and the internet - it is free and available to all - It will be hundreds of millions less expensive to provide children with computers, internet, and let parents home school, or form groups for education via computer. It provides a much safer environment than "gun-and drug free school zones" - that often aren't. It also doesn't DOOM bright children to failure by being held to the level of the slowest child in the class.

Abolish RUSD - educate your child safely at home!




IF Louisiana can move FORWARD into the 21st.C with internet schools replacing failed schools - so can Wisconsin!


Voces de la Frontera, ....How long before they break out the guns and press the issues ?


What a bunch of hypocrits. Don't listen to the conservatives but listen to the liberals. What a crock. Unified has no business doing anything with Voces. They can claim they are non-partisan all they want, that doesn't make it so.


"Unified has gotten complaints and open records requests"...according to Stacey Tapp. Somehow, I don't think this issue is gonna go away for Unified. It will be interesting to find out how much in dollars and time Unifieds involvement with Voces has been.

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