Key hearing on Prov. schools takeover underway

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Education is holding a key hearing Friday about its plan to take over the Providence Public Schools.

The “show cause” hearing before R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green was originally set up to give four parties — the mayor, the Providence City Council, the Providence School Board and the superintendent — the chance to object to her order to take over the school district.

But a group of students and parents wants to be included in that legal process, and have filed a “motion to intervene” in the show cause hearing.

The motion will be heard at 9 a.m. Friday, ahead of the hearing itself, where all of the four aforementioned parties have already said they have no plans to object to the state takeover.

The coalition of student groups and parents, represented by the Rhode Island Center for Justice, want to be included as a fifth party with a stake in the legal process.

Jennifer Wood, the attorney for the groups, says she’ll present a student, at least one parent, youth group organizers and an author to testify in favor of the motion. The RIDE lawyer will be able to cross-examine the witnesses.

Infante-Green will issue a ruling on the motion to intervene ahead of the show cause hearing, according to her spokesperson.

The author expected to testify is Domingo Morel, a professor from Rutgers University who wrote a book  about state takeovers called “Takeover: Race, Education and American Democracy.”

Morel’s book, according to a description on Amazon.com, offers a “systematic study of state takeovers of local governments,” including every state takeover of local school districts in the country.

Mayor Jorge Elorza, who submitted a letter of non-opposition to the takeover, is supporting the students and parents who want to intervene.

City Solicitor Jeff Dana filed a motion on Elorza’s behalf saying he doesn’t oppose the groups intervening in the hearing.

“Community voice and involvement may ultimately be the most critical tool in any successful, transformational work that is part of the turnaround efforts for Providence Public Schools,” Elorza said in a statement. “It is incredible that so many passionate community members, teachers, parents and students, are eager to be part of the solution.”

The Providence City Council also filed a letter of non-opposition ahead of the hearing, though Council President Sabina Matos said she has concerns about the state takeover process when it comes to budgets and revenue.

“The City Council is determined not to sit on the sidelines throughout this process,” Matos wrote. “This is far too important and these unanswered questions are the ones we can help find answers to.”

City Councilwoman Rachel Miller, D-Ward 13, says she plans to speak at the the hearing, along with Councilwomen Helen Anthony, D-Ward 2, and Kat Kerwin, D-Ward 12.

Miller told WPRI 12 she supports “concerns that students and parents are raising for transparency and accountability in the state intervention process.”

The School Board filed a five-page list of recommendations, suggesting dozens of changes from longer school days to modifications to the teachers union contract. School Board Chairman Nick Hemond said no one from the School Board plans to testify at the hearing in person.

Interim Superintendent Fran Gallo also told WPRI 12 she does not plan to speak at the hearing.

Infante-Green anticipates taking control of the struggling school district in late October or early November, after submitting her final order of reconstitution under the state’s Crowley Act.

The next step will be forming a turnaround plan and hiring a state-installed superintendent, who would replace Gallo. Infante-Green is already interviewing candidates, and has not made any of the names public.

The plan to take control of the Providence schools came in the wake of the Johns Hopkins report released in June, which detailed a general lack of learning, teacher and student absenteeism, and decrepit school buildings in the city.

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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