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Pressure mounts for Providence superintendent’s resignation

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Five members of the Providence City Council are calling for the city’s superintendent of schools to step down due to his “lack of judgment” in hiring a high-ranking administrator who had previously been accused of inappropriate behavior with students in Florida.

Councilors David Salvatore, Helen Anthony, Kat Kerwin, Rachel Miller and Jo-Ann Ryan are all listed as co-sponsors on a resolution calling on Superintendent Peters to resign. It will be introduced at Thursday’s council meeting.

“As the superintendent of the Providence Public School system, Mr. Peters’ single most important responsibility is to ensure the safety and well-being of every student who enters a Providence school,” the resolution reads. “The lack of judgement demonstrated by Superintendent Peters in vouching for and hiring Mr. Alege has completely eroded any level of trust between the superintendent and the local communities he is asked to serve.”

The council doesn’t have the power to remove the superintendent, but passage of the resolution would signal support from the body for him to resign.

Council President John Igliozzi did not immediately say whether he will support the resolution.

“This is another horrible episode for the city of Providence school system,” Igliozzi said. “We need to do everything we do to turn it around. If that includes the superintendent stepping down and finding another person to take the helm, then so be it.”

Peters was grilled by senators at an oversight hearing Monday night, where he acknowledged that he didn’t tell anyone about allegations against Dr. Olayinka Alege dating back to 2009 in Tampa, when he was accused of “toe-popping” boys as an apparent form of punishment.

While Peters — who worked with Alege in Florida — said he confronted him about the accusations during the hiring process in Providence, he testified that he did not tell the hiring committee for the position or Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, who has state control over the Providence schools.

Less than a year after Alege was hired as the network superintendent overseeing Providence’s middle and high schools, he was arrested by Warwick police for allegedly taking a boy’s shoe off and massaging his bare foot without permission.

Alege resigned from his job and has pleaded not guilty.

Pressure has been growing for Peters to step down for hiring Alege, which he acknowledged was an “error in judgment.”

“My colleagues and I were horrified by what was uncovered during last night’s oversight hearing,” said Providence Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, a Democrat and the majority whip. “I believe it would be appropriate for Superintendent Peters to resign.”

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who also represents part of Providence, stopped short of calling for Peters to resign.

“Monday night’s hearing brought to light several communication and management failures,” Ruggerio said. “It was deeply troubling. I am in the process of consulting with my colleagues.”

The Providence School Board is slated to discuss Peters’ job performance behind closed doors on Wednesday evening.

School Board President Nick Hemond said he would wait until after that performance review to say whether Peters should resign. But he noted that prior to the state’s takeover of Providence schools, the School Board had the power to hire and fire superintendents and top administrators.

“If the state takeover hadn’t happened and the School Board hired a person with Dr. Alege’s track record in Florida due to the failure of the superintendent to give us the information, then the School Board would’ve had on its agenda tomorrow ‘consideration of termination,'” Hemond said.

Maribeth Calabro, the President of the Providence Teachers Union, also called on Peters to resign.

“I believe that irreparable harm has been done in terms of trust, in terms of accountability,” Calabro said. “I believe that we need a fresh start.”

The union has been embroiled in contract negotiations with Peters and RIDE, an issue at the heart of the state turnaround plan. Randi Weingarten, the president of the national American Federation of Teachers, is visiting Providence Wednesday and planning to tour two Providence schools. Gov. Dan McKee said the two plan to meet.

Infante-Green, who was also questioned by senators Monday night, said she plans to approve top hires in Providence in the future. She had previously left it to Peters to hire his team, she said.

“The commissioner has not asked for the resignation of Superintendent Peters publicly or privately at this time,” spokesperson Victor Morente said Monday night.

McKee told reporters Tuesday he would reserve comment on Peters’ future until after a meeting with Infante-Green later Tuesday afternoon.

Following that meeting, McKee’s office declined to immediately comment on the discussions.

Peters has apologized for hiring Alege, but thus far given no indication he plans to resign.

“The superintendent has no intention of resigning,” his spokesperson Audrey Lucas said Monday night. “He is fully committed to seeing through the transformation of Providence Public Schools.”

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

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