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Ed commissioner issues initial order to take over Providence schools

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I — Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green has issued her preliminary order to take over the Providence Public Schools, paving the way for the final takeover this fall.

“PPSD is failing to fulfill its duty to its students,” she wrote in her order. “The district is failing them at staggering rates, despite significant financial resources and interventions and support from the state.”

The 122-page order, which is part of the legal process to invoke the 1997 Crowley Act, is being sent to Mayor Jorge Elorza, the Providence City Council, the Providence School Board and interim Superintendent Fran Gallo.

The commissioner plans to “exercise all powers and authorities currently exercised by the Providence School Board and superintendent, as well as all powers and authorities currently exercised by the mayor of Providence and the Providence City Council as it pertains to PPSD and its schools,” according to the order.

Those four parties will have 30 days to object to the order at a “show cause” hearing on Sept. 13.

“It would be very unfortunate for anyone to do that as this point,” Infante-Green told reporters after issuing the report.

“I don’t expect for the city, at least for my office, to object,” Elorza said during a July taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “We need to do something radically different to bring about transformational change.”

City Council President Sabina Matos on Thursday issued a statement about the order, expressing tentative support.

“I believe that this is a necessary step, and although I have concerns that the state is taking control of more than half of the City’s budget, I remain committed and supportive of this process,” Matos said.

School Board President Nick Hemond also said he has no current plans to object at the show cause hearing.

The state takeover would initially last three years with the option to modify or extend it past that date, according to the order.

Infante-Green said Thursday she expects the broad authority under the order will give her to the power to renegotiate or change contracts, including the teachers union contract and the custodial contract with Aramark that is scheduled to expire in 2023.

Aramark, which is slated to be paid $18.5 million next school year, has been criticized by city leaders recently when it comes to the cleanliness of the schools.

Infante-Green said she and Elorza met with Aramark last week and asked them to present a plan for improvement.

“We are awaiting that plan as we speak,” she said.

Infante-Green has said she plans to install her own superintendent once the state has full control of the schools. The person is described in the report as a “State Turnaround Superintendent,” who will work on a turnaround plan with the commissioner.

The commissioner confirmed she looked at Lawrence, Massachusetts, when putting the order together. Massachusetts intervened into the Lawrence school district in 2011, and implemented a turnaround plan that included firing 160 underperforming teachers, slimming down the central administrative offices and giving more power to individual schools

“It’s fair to say there is not a single example of a successful state intervention of this kind in the country,” Elorza told reporters Thursday afternoon. “There have been a number of examples, and Lawrence is one of them, that while the state is involved you see a bump and you see progress. But when the state exits, it all reverts back to the way it was in the past.” (Massachusetts still controls the Lawrence public schools.)

Infante-Green said she is talking to potential candidates for the new superintendent job, but declined to disclose who she is considering at this point.

The state takeover was proposed in the wake of the Johns Hopkins report, released in June, that described abysmal academic conditions and poor building conditions in Providence schools.

This is a developing story. Target 12 is digging through the newly released order and this story will be updated.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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