PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Senate has approved a plan to expand oversight of the state takeover of Providence schools, including by restoring some of the powers of the Providence School Board.

The bill has an uncertain outlook in the House, and Gov. Dan McKee has not said whether he would veto the measure, which is opposed by the R.I. Department of Education.

The legislation is an amended version of the one originally introduced by state Sen. Sam Zurier, D-Providence. It would in part return some — but not all — powers to the Providence School Board, allowing the board’s members to once again approve high-level hires and policies in the school district.

The bill would also end the state takeover’s initial term in fall of 2024, five years after it started, with a three-year renewal possible if approved by the school board.

As it stands, the R.I. Department of Education under Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green can make unilateral decisions about the school district, without approval by a public body, under a law called the Crowley Act that was used to initiate the takeover.

Infante-Green’s current plan is to extend the deadline for the takeover’s initial goals until 2027, which she has said is necessary to account for the two years lost to the pandemic.

Zurier pointed to a hiring scandal last year — which led to the firing of the superintendent — as evidence for why the state needs more oversight.

Olayinka Alege, then a Providence network superintendent, was arrested in 2021 for rubbing a boy’s foot at a Warwick gym, a crime for which he was later convicted. (Alege is appealing the conviction.)

Alege had reportedly been accused of similar behavior while working in Florida, an issue that was detailed in a local newspaper. Former Superintendent Harrison Peters, who acknowledged knowing about the Florida allegations before hiring Alege, lost his job over the incident.

Prior to the state takeover, a high-level hire like Alege would have been vetted and approved by the Providence School Board.

“This debacle could’ve been avoided had there been proper oversight and external vetting of this hire before it was made,” Zurier argued on the Senate floor.

The current superintendent, Dr. Javier Montañez, gave fiery testimony against the bill in April, arguing the district should be allowed to continue under the current turnaround plan.

“I don’t beg, I don’t plead. But when it comes to my kids, I will do whatever it takes,” Montañez said. “This is not the time to make this change. Let us change. Let us show you. Let us prove people wrong.”

Zurier’s original bill would have created a new nine-member board of trustees to oversee the state takeover, but was amended to instead give some oversight powers back to the school board. The board would still not have any power over the school district’s budget, spending or labor contracts.

The bill also would require the school district to update the turnaround plan to create annual goals to measure the progress of the takeover.

A spokesperson for Infante-Green said Tuesday the R.I Department of Education still opposes the amended version of the bill, arguing it reinstates layers of bureaucracy that the takeover was designed to remove.

“RIDE continues to oppose S2838, which we believe adds the exact type of extraneous bureaucracy identified as an issue in the Johns Hopkins report,” spokesperson David Folcarelli said. “Page 60 specifically identifies the ‘took many cooks’ model codified in this bill as a barrier to progress in our schools.”

Zurier acknowledged that problem, but said his legislation only returns “limited” oversight to the school board.

“The current complete absence of oversight of any kind in any case, can cause a different and potentially disastrous set of harms and setbacks,” Zurier said.

Prior to the takeover, decisions about spending needed to be approved by not only the school board, but also the Providence City Council and the Board of Contract and Supply.

“We have charted a course based on the community-led Turnaround Action Plan, and as Superintendent Montañez testified when this bill was in committee, we believe the community deserves the opportunity to see that plan followed through before we revert to the same systems that led Providence schools to this point,” Folcarelli said.

The amended version of the legislation no longer changes the procedure for future state takeovers, which was in the original bill. Zurier said that matter needs to be discussed further.

State Sen. Sam Bell, also a Providence Democrat, said he was voting in favor of the bill with “heavy reservations,” as he would prefer a law that would go further to clearly end the takeover, and also create an elected school board rather than one appointed by the mayor.

(The matter of creating an elected school board is currently being discussed by the Providence Charter Review Commission, which proposes changes to the city charter once per decade for voters to consider.)

Senate Oversight Committee Chairman Lou DiPalma, who has held numerous hearings examining the Providence schools, argued the state’s Council on Elementary and Secondary Education has “abdicated its responsibility” to oversee the takeover.

The bill was approved unanimously in a vote of 37 to 0.

It’s not yet clear if the House will approve the bill prior to the expected end of the legislative session next week. House spokesperson Larry Berman said Tuesday the companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Kislak, is still under consideration.

McKee’s office did not respond to an inquiry Tuesday about whether he would sign or veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

If the governor were to reject the legislation, the House and Senate would both need a two-thirds majority vote to override the veto.

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.