Students want stake in Providence schools takeover; city leaders don’t object

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — None of the city leaders who were permitted to file objections to the state’s takeover of Providence schools opted to do so by the deadline Wednesday, though a coalition of student groups filed a motion asking to be included in the legal process.

Mayor Jorge Elorza, interim Superintendent Frances Gallo, the Providence School Board and the Providence City Council were all given the opportunity to file objections ahead of a Sept. 13 show cause hearing before Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. All four parties filed statements of “non-opposition” Wednesday.

A group of student and youth organizations, however, also filed a motion asking to be a fifth party that can speak up during the legal process.

Youth in Action, Providence Youth Student Movement, Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education, and Providence Student Union are represented by the Rhode Island Center for Justice in the motion.

“The Proposed Order of Control and Reconstitution does not contain defined and enforceable avenues for transparency, accountability and the input of students and parents in the Reconstitution,” the legal motion said. ‘If the proposed intervention is to succeed, formal enforceable mechanisms that provide transparency and accountability to parents and students—the most affected parties—must be built into the intervention itself.”

RIDE spokesperson Meg Geoghegan said the department’s lawyers are reviewing the motion.

‘We absolutely take the concerns of these parents and students to heart,” Geoghegan said. “We know that community involvement will be integral to turnaround efforts in PPSD, a fact that has been reinforced by our nine public forums and subsequent focus groups and work sessions. The commissioner will continue to engage regularly with parents, students, teachers and community members as this process moves forward and we develop a turnaround plan.”

Members of the Providence School Board, who also did not object to the takeover, voted at a meeting Wednesday night to add a five-page list of recommendations in their statement of non-opposition to Infante-Green.

The vote was 7-2. Travis Escobar and Mark Santos both voted against the letter of non-opposition.

“I have questions around accountability, around transparency, especially with hiring the new superintendent,” Escobar said. He said he does support the list of recommendations.

The lengthy list of of recommendations includes extending the school day and the school year, adding more mandatory professional development for teachers, adding a training program for substitutes, opening a welcome center for parents, changing the suspension policy and more.

Some of the board’s recommended changes would require Infante-Green to break open the teachers union contract, such as a proposal to change the hiring process by eliminating the multiple rounds of internal interviews before teaching jobs can be posted publicly.

Other recommendations would require state law changes, such as eliminating non-medical leaves of absence and embedding funding for English learners in the state’s funding formula.

The board says it’s tried to implement some of these policies before, but has been hampered by contracts and state laws. Under the Crowley Act, the state law that authorizes the state takeover, Infante-Green says she will be able to take actions that change contracts.

“I’m in favor of giving this a shot,” said Nick Hemond, the president of the School Board. “I just caution everybody involved that we have to be adamant that this is not something that does not have an end, a measurable path to an end.”

The takeover order does call for a three-year term, though it can be renewed. Hemond said he anticipates the turnaround process taking more than three years, and he’s concerned about who the governor or education commissioner would be down the line if the state retains control.

City Council President Sabina Matos also sent a letter to Infante-Green on Wednesday in support of the state intervention, but said she still has concerns: “Who’s on the hook if the district goes over budget? Who’s responsible for raising revenue? Who’s liable in legal matters? Who makes the call for a snow day?”

She described her letter not as one of objection, but an “extension of support.”

“The City Council is determined not to sit on the sidelines throughout this process,” Matos wrote. “This is far too important and these unanswered questions are the ones we can help find answers to.”

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

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