PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Council on Elementary and Secondary Education voted Tuesday night to reappoint state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, whose current employment agreement expires next spring.
Following a closed-door discussion, the council voted 5-1 to reappoint Infante-Green and negotiate a new three-year contract with her.
The recommendation next goes to the full Board of Education for approval. (The full board includes all the members of the K-12 Council.)
“I’ve grown very fond of Rhode Island, and I made a commitment to do the work and I expect to continue to do that,” Infante-Green told 12 News after the vote. “I feel very proud of the work that we’ve done and the work that we’ll continue to do.”
Infante-Green was first appointed by the state council in 2019 under then-Gov. Gina Raimondo. Shortly thereafter, she led the effort to take state control of the struggling Providence Public School District. Her current salary in the third year of her contract is $245,837. The deal expires April 28, 2022.
She has been a controversial figure at times, often vilified by the Providence Teachers Union, which argues she blames teachers for the institutional failings of the school system.
The union wrote a letter to the K-12 Council on Tuesday asking that they delay the vote on her renewal until after a Senate Oversight Committee hearing on the Providence schools takeover that is scheduled to take place Wednesday.
“Any attempt to rush through this agenda item without full transparency will erode the already minimal level of confidence in the process,” wrote Jeremy Sencer, the union vice president, in an email.
But Infante-Green also has plenty of support, including from Board of Education Chair Barbara Cottam and Gov. Dan McKee.
While the governor does not have a formal role in renewing the commissioner’s contract, McKee said Tuesday he had “made it very clear” he wanted the council to keep Infante-Green in place.
“I think the commissioner is very much dedicated to the work in the state of Rhode Island, and those are the type of people that I want to work with,” McKee said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Asked why the commissioner’s deal was being renewed now – rather than closer to its expiration date in six months – McKee said it represented a “vote of confidence.”
“I think she’s the right person at the right time,” McKee said. “I do know a little bit about education.”
McKee has taken a more direct role in the Providence schools takeover than Raimondo did, replacing Infante-Green with one of his own deputies during drawn-out contract negotiations with the Providence Teachers Union. A deal was finally reached over the summer.
“I’ve certainly had something to do with the Providence contract being settled, as well as the superintendent who’s sitting in the superintendent’s office right now,” McKee said.
Cottam said it was “best practice” to consider a top official’s contract four to six months out from the end of their current agreement. She said she hadn’t spoken directly with McKee about Tuesday’s planned vote, but was aware that he wanted to keep Infante-Green on board.
“Rhode Island is fortunate to count on Commissioner Infante-Green’s expertise and dedication to students, educators and families,” Cottam said in a statement. “It is important that we begin this process now, so we maintain consistent and steady leadership to offer every student the world-class education they deserve.”
Infante-Green also confirmed she has had other job opportunities on the table, but said she plans to accept the reappointment in Rhode Island.
“Providence has had kind of this revolving door,” Infante-Green said. “We’ve committed to continuity.”
Those voting in favor of the commissioner’s reappointment were Cottam, Amy Beretta, Karen Davis, Patricia DiCenso and Jo-Eva Gaines. In opposition was Colleen Callahan, who said she was unable to support the commissioner’s renewal at this time.
“I recognize how difficult the last number of years have been and I applaud the good things the commissioner has done,” Callahan said after the meeting. But she said she was also concerned about Providence, including how many teachers were leaving the district.
“They haven’t just left because the work was hard,” Callahan said. “We’re hearing about issues relative to morale. … The biggest issue seems to be the climate.”
Absent from the meeting were Larry Purtill, Michael Almeida and Marta Martinez.
Prior to the renewal vote, the K-12 Council members heard presentations about the dismal RICAS scores statewide and in Providence, which education officials have been largely attributed to the effects of the pandemic on students.
“It’s painful,” Infante-Green said as she walked through the math scores.
“We hear the same thing all the time,” council member Jo-Eva Gaines interjected. “There has to be some reckoning somewhere.”
Infante-Green agreed, and said districts could be looking at longer school days – and even a longer school year – to accelerate learning and make up for lost time.
“We’re toying with the idea of some schools beings 12 months” in Providence, Infante-Green said. The concept, which would need to be negotiated with the teachers union, could include more frequent vacations during a year-round school year rather than having a long summer break.
She also noted a small number of schools managed to increase their scores, even amid the challenges of the pandemic, and said they were already being looked at as potential models for other schools.