RACINE — New legislation aimed at a Racine Unified School District takeover and possible breakup was demonized as a new era of segregation Sunday at a forum put on my state Reps. Cory Mason, D-Racine, and Peter Barca, D-Kenosha at Knapp Community School, 2701 17th St.
Motion 409, approved by the Joint Committee on Finance Aug. 28, is a rider to the state budget, up for a vote this week by both houses of the Legislature, that would govern a possible takeover or breakup of the district.
“Things have been moving in the right direction for Racine Unified for quite a while that’s why we were so startled when, in fact, in the 11th hour this budget amendment came forward,” Barca said. “When there was hearings on the budget — this wasn’t in the budget.”
The Legislature is expected to vote on the state budget starting Tuesday when the Assembly has the bill, Barca said. Motion 409 is a school district creation provision which would allow any of the seven municipalities in which Unified operates, such as Caledonia, to break away from Unified and form its own school district, if the district fails in the report cards coming out this fall. The villages can join together to form a district.
The timing of some of the changes is contingent on changes that the Unified School Board is required to make, under Act 10, to the employee handbook. The proposed handbook goes before the School Board at its meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11.
Reagaring the possible changes to Unified, Barca said: “If the handbook is acceptable to the state and Racine Unified fails on the state report card this fall, then it would go into effect next school year ... if the handbook is not acceptable to the state, it would go into effect this year. How remarkable is that?”
Knapp, where the forum was held, is one of the 11 Unified schools to which the state Department of Public Instruction gave a failing grade. This year’s report card is to be issued within the next two months.
“This is one of the buildings that could be seized under what is proposed,” Mason said. “There is no stipulation that the schools taken over have to keep the students. So the students could get displaced if the takeover occurs.”
Unified has been lobbying local legislators to give them more time, so that changes to the math and English language arts curriculum, and initiatives such as the Academies of Racine at the high school level, could have a cumulative effect on student achievement.
Julie Underwood, a professor of education law, policy and practice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, presented a comparison of census data from Unified and the surrounding villages, she said, could create segregation with a district split.
Using the last DPI report card data on Unified, Underwood said the district’s composition is 60 percent minorities, 17.4 percent with disabilities, and 11.5 percent with limited English proficiency.
For comparison, she said, Caledonia has 15 percent minorities, 3 percent with disabilities, and zero percent limited English proficiency, according to 2015 census data.
“You create these districts, you are going to create a majority-minority district and then a number of white districts. What effect does that have?” Underwood said. “What you would have is a district with low property wealth with higher needs and a district with higher wealth and lower needs.
“If it is not intentional, it is reckless.”
The news did not sit well with many of the 150 people, and the handful of Unified School Board members, who showed up for the forum as a dozen residents voiced opposition.
Alfonso Gardner, a Mount Pleasant resident, called the takeover and breakup proposals “a racist policy.”
“This is nothing but segregation,” Gardner said. “I’m not saying everybody who lives in Mount Pleasant, Sturtevant or Caledonia are racists, that’s not what I am saying, but this policy is.”
Mark Freeman of Racine’s Second Missionary Baptist Church called it “a new era of Jim Crow.”
“We must say with one voice and as a community, ‘No to a state takeover!”
Some residents suggested a lawsuit to stop the takeover. Others, such as Green Party activist Fabian Maldonado, who is running for Racine mayor, suggested a call to action.
“We have to start rising up together. Stagnation is how we lost the 2016 election. We need to canvass the county and go out swinging,” Maldonado said.
After the meeting, Maldonado took names and numbers to organize opposition.
Mount Pleasant parent Rob Fisco blamed fellow parents for letting Unified’s failure get this far.
“You go to a basketball game, the bleachers are filled, but you ask the same people to go to a PTA meeting and nobody shows up ... this is a train coming down the track,” Fisco said.
Fisco said he doesn’t believe elected officials are trying to segregate the schools.
“I believe my elected officials are not racist, but they’ve seen a trend that has put us as the bottom of performance ... now the state is addressing what is going on,” Fisco said.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, state Rep. Tom Weatherston, R-Caledonia, and state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, could not be reached for comment Sunday in response to comments made at the forum.