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Agreement struck to terminate Providence superintendent

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Three days after R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green asked Providence Superintendent Harrison Peters to resign his post, an agreement has been struck between the two parties to terminate his contract.

“An agreement to terminate the employment agreement has been reached following the Commissioner’s request for Peters’ resignation,” RIDE spokesperson Victor Morente said in a statement Friday night.

Peters will be paid out six months of his salary and benefits in a lump sum estimated to be $169,118, Morente said.

In a statement Saturday morning, Peters acknowledged he no longer had the trust required to move forward with improving the school district.

“When I arrived in Providence, I said ‘change happens at the speed of trust,'” he said. “I was inspired by a community ready to make bold moves to put kids first — and I was eager to earn your trust so we could make the changes necessary for every kid in the district to have access to an excellent education.”

“But unfortunately, I don’t have that trust needed to make change,” Peters continued. “I will always be driven by who matters — the kids — and so, with deep sadness, I am announcing my resignation today. I hope this decision will allow the focus to stay on students and the changes that need to happen for their futures. To the students and staff I’ve had the honor to serve in this district, I am always rooting for you.”

The comments were the first from Peters since the commissioner asked for his resignation on Tuesday. The superintendent’s lawyer had been negotiating an exit deal with the R.I. Department of Education for several days, after Peters did not resign when asked to do so by Infante-Green.

A copy of the agreement says the two parties mutually agreed to terminate Peters’ employment effective Friday. The deal includes Peters receiving six months of his salary, $750-per-month car allowance, dental and medical insurance, an amount equal to his 16% retirement benefits, and more than $10,000 in accrued vacation time.

The agreement also says Peters has agreed to turn over his computers, records, documents and work passwords, and will “cooperate with PPSD and respond to PPSD’s questions regarding matters which the superintendent personally had knowledge and responsibility for during the period of his employment.”

Morente said earlier Friday that a review would take place into Peters’ other hiring decisions during his tenure.

Peters has been under fire for the past week over his hiring of Dr. Olayinka Alege, a top administrator who has been arrested by Warwick Police, accused of forcibly rubbing an underage boy’s foot at a Warwick gym. Two adults also told police Alege touched their feet without consent, but did not want to press charges.

Alege faced similar allegations at a Tampa High School in 2009, which Peters knew about prior to hiring Alege in 2020. At a Senate hearing Monday, he admitted did not tell the hiring committee or Infante-Green about the allegations prior to hiring Alege.

He called the decision an “error in judgment” and has apologized. Infante-Green said she found out about the Florida allegations in news reports after Alege was hired as the network superintendent for secondary schools.

The calls for Peters to resign became near-unanimous this week, with the commissioner, governor, Providence mayor and Providence City Council all calling for him to step down. The Providence School Board voted no confidence in the superintendent, and the board president said he should resign.

Peters hadn’t been to work since Tuesday, and two contract negotiation sessions with the Providence Teachers Union were cancelled this week.

Peters’ contract allowed the commissioner to fire him for cause without any payment. A termination without cause would’ve resulted in a full year’s salary and benefits, estimated to be worth $318,000.

Peters’ three-year contract provided a $225,000 salary with 3% annual raises, a 15% employer-paid retirement benefit in addition to a state pension contribution, $20,000 in moving expenses, a $750-per-month car allowance, insurance and other benefits.

During a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers on Friday prior to the agreement being struck, School Board President Nick Hemond said the two sides should continue talking, though it can’t go on forever.

“If he doesn’t resign, he should be fired,” Hemond said. But he noted a termination for cause could result in a lawsuit, which could ultimately end up in a settlement anyway.

Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro criticized the possibility that Peters could receive payment in an exit deal.

“Most folks who have engaged in this kind of behavior that adversely impacts kids would be terminated,” Calabro said.

The union has been engaged in contentious contract negotiations in recent months, but Calabro said the situation has improved recently, with the two sides meeting in the same room again. (Previously, a mediator had been going back and forth between the union and RIDE in separate rooms.)

Peters and Infante-Green have both been attending the negotiating sessions.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has called for RIDE to unilaterally break the contract, an action he said he thought the state would take when he supported the state takeover in 2019.

Now, Elorza says the state should change the contract and then give the schools back to the city.

“RIDE made a commitment to the turnaround of Providence public schools,” Morente said. “More than three years remain in the authorized period and a plan to transition the district back to the city will also be needed.”

In a letter to families on Friday evening, Infante-Green said she remains committed to the state turnaround effort. She also said there would be an announcement about “interim leadership” in the coming days, but in the meantime the decision-making in Providence schools would be made through her team.

“The last few weeks have been incredibly difficult for our community,” Infante-Green wrote.

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

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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