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Senate committee approves ed board nominees

March 2, 2011

The Senate education committee has approved three of Governor Chafee’s four appointees to the State Board of Education. The next step is a hearing on the fourth appointee and a vote by the full Senate.

Asked whether he considers his job as a lobbyist for Twin River a conflict of interest, former House Majority Leader George Caruolo said he didn’t see how it would differ from any attorney who serves multiple clients.

“The fact that I am educating you on issues surrounding child education in Rhode Island or I’m in this building educating you on the interests of a commercial entity, it’s not a conflict,” said Caruolo, who has been tapped as the board’s new chair. He later joked, “Guess we won’t have any slots in the schools.”

Caruolo said he has had several long conversations with State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and believes they agree on many issues. He praised Gist for raising the profile of education reform on Smith Hill and said he sees a vital role going forward for the hard-charging commissioner. However, Caruolo also said he did not expect the board to be “potted plants.”

“I have no illusions. This is a demanding and challenging position, and I expect many lively discussions,” the longtime lawmaker said.

Caruolo did indicate he may put he breaks on some elements of Gists’s education reform agenda, though he was not specific about which ones.

“Just because somebody says this is urgent doesn’t mean we should rush.” Caruolo said. “It’s not important to get this done in 15 minutes, its important to get it right. That is Gist’s position as well.”

At the end of a hearing that lasted several hours the committee also approved the appointment of labor organizer Carolina Bernal, though one senator opposed the pick citing concerns about her potential ties to teachers’ unions.

Former State Department of Education employee Mathias Santos also gained approval after intense questioning from Sen. Glenford Shibley, who seemed to suggest an ethical question relating to Santos’s service in the administration of former Governor Edward Diprete. Shibley dropped this line of questioning at the urging of Committee Chair Hannah Gallo and Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva Weed.

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