PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Rhode Island House panel on Wednesday passed a scaled-back bill to make changes to the state’s takeover of Providence schools, opting against returning any control to the Providence School Board.

The Senate version of the legislation, which was approved last week, would have given the School Board back some limited powers to approve or reject high-level hires and policies, but not control over the district’s budget or other matters.

But the House Education Committee amended the legislation before approval, changing the School Board’s role to just “review and advise” on senior hires and new district policies.

“I see this as a placeholder piece of legislation that frankly, does not do much,” acknowledged state Rep. Rebecca Kislak, D-Providence, the lead sponsor of the House version of the bill. She said the ideal scenario would be for all sides to come together and agree on what oversight for the school district should look like.

“Hopefully we’ll still keep talking,” Kislak told the Education Committee.

Superintendent Javier Montañez vehemently opposed the original bill, testifying that the lawmakers should give the current turnaround a chance to work before making changes.

R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, who leads the Department of Education and has control over the Providence schools, also still opposes the scaled-back version of the legislation.

“The Johns Hopkins report was pretty clear that the layers and layers of bureaucracy made it very difficult to get things accomplished,” Infante-Green said Wednesday on 12 News at 4. “What we’re trying to do is move very fast, and do things in a more streamlined way, and this causes us to add another layer.”

The layers of bureaucracy prior to the takeover included more than just the School Board. Most district spending had to also be approved by the city’s Board of Contract and Supply and the City Council. (The 2019 Hopkins report also detailed other concerns about the layers of approvals, such as Mayor Jorge Elorza’s tendency to personally interview job applicants.)

The legislation does not add all those layers back in, but it is still a change from current practice. As it stands, the state-controlled school department decides which items to bring to the School Board’s attention for advice.

Neither of the two superintendents hired during the state takeover, for example, have been brought before the board for review or discussion prior to being given the job.

The hiring process was part of the impetus for Sen. Sam Zurier to introduce the bill, he previously told 12 News. Zurier cited the scandal that ultimately led to former Superintendent Harrison Peters’ termination over his hiring of Olayinka Alege, who had a reported history of “popping” students toes in Florida. Alege was then arrested and convicted of assault after rubbing a underage boy’s foot in Rhode Island.

Zurier said Wednesday that he would vote in favor of the new House version if it reaches the Senate floor.

“While I prefer the Senate version, I believe the House bill, if enacted, will improve the School Department’s decision-making process and help produce better outcomes for the students in Providence,” Zurier said. “I also hope the School Department and School Board can use the House bill’s structure as a starting point to strengthen collaboration and facilitate the ultimate return of the Providence Public Schools to local control.”

“With that said, I expect the General Assembly will continue to provide legislative oversight to fill in the accountability gaps that still remain in the State’s takeover of the Providence Public Schools,” Zurier added.

House Speaker Joe Shekarchi also said the issue will be revisited next year.

“This is a measured approach that puts all stakeholders on notice that we will be monitoring their progress and we’re not happy with the results so far,” Shekarchi said. “We will be reviewing this issue again when we return to session in January, and if progress has not been made In the next six months, we will revisit this bill.”

In addition to requiring certain matters be brought to the School Board for advice, the bill also sets an end date for the takeover to 2024, with options to renew. It also requires the state to report on its progress in the turnaround plan.

The bill now goes to the House floor for a vote. Gov. Dan McKee has not yet said if he would sign or veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

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