PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When Gov. Dan McKee’s administration reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with the Providence Teachers Union in 2021, the deal was kept private until it was final, a departure from past practice where municipal union contracts were publicly vetted.

The decision not to release the contract publicly caused a public dust-up between then-Mayor Jorge Elorza and McKee at a Waterfire event, where the governor’s state police detail separated the two men as Elorza accused McKee of keeping the contract a secret.

“You’ve got to face the community on this,” Elorza told McKee then, pointing his finger at him.

New legislation filed last week by Sen. Sam Zurier and Rep. Rebecca Kislak, both Providence Democrats, would change the process, requiring the state’s Council on Elementary and Secondary Education to hold a public hearing and vote about any tentative collective bargaining agreement during the state takeover of the Providence schools.

Prior to the state takeover, such contracts were made public after a tentative agreement was reached, and were then publicly vetted and approved by the Providence City Council. The council still publicly vets the police and fire contracts, but no longer has authority over the school department’s contracts because of the state takeover of the school system.

The 2021 contract deal — which included $3,000 bonuses for each teacher — ultimately leaked to reporters just hours before the union ratification vote. The deal followed more than a year of tense negotiations between the PTU and state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. After McKee became governor, one of his staffers took over the negotiations.

“I believe that was an unfortunate lack of transparency and a departure from the norm in Rhode Island,” Zurier said Wednesday.

The teachers’ contract now expires this summer. PTU president Maribeth Calabro said she is hoping to start negotiating with Infante-Green soon.

“It doesn’t matter who we negotiate with, the goal is to get a fair contract that’s good for teachers, good for students and good for families,” Calabro told 12 News.

Calabro said she does not oppose the new legislation requiring a public hearing about a tentative contract, especially considering the contract had always been publicly vetted prior to the takeover.

Spokespeople for Infante-Green and McKee did not immediately comment on the new legislation.

“The practice in Rhode Island for all school districts, to my knowledge, has always been that collective bargaining agreements are publicly vetted before a school committee or town council before a tentative agreement becomes final,” Zurier said.

Zurier has been critical of the state takeover for a lack of transparency around spending and hiring, two areas that no longer go through a public process at the Providence School Board or City Council because of the takeover.

He has pointed to the recent decision to close two schools without any public discussion as an example, along with the hiring of former top PPSD official Olayinka Alege, who got the job despite published reports about alleged misconduct with children in Florida. (The superintendent who hired Alege, Harrison Peters, was forced out over the scandal.)

Infante-Green has argued that the previous way of operating, which included review by public bodies, did not succeed in improving the city’s school system. The takeover under the Crowley Act, a state law, gives her authority over the district’s budget, personnel and programs.

The proposed legislation, which was referred to both the House and Senate Education committees, would apply to all collective bargaining agreements with the Providence public school district, though the teachers’ contract is the largest with nearly 2,000 employees.

Elorza had cited the contract as the reason why he gave up control of the school district to the state, arguing the state had authority under the Crowley Act to make drastic changes to the agreement. That authority has not yet been tested, however, and would likely trigger a court battle between the union and the state.

In the upcoming contract, the state-run district will likely be seeking to extend the length of the school day to help make up for learning loss during the pandemic. It’s not yet clear which schools or grades could see longer school days.

The first term of the state takeover is slated to end in the fall of 2024. Infante-Green has not yet said if she will seek to extend it beyond that date.

“We’re looking at what kind of progress have we made,” Infante-Green said last month in an interview on 12 News at 4. “Hopefully we’ll be in a good space to be able to turn it back to the city. That is our goal, I don’t know if that’s the timeline.”

Steph Machado ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.