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Is Mayor Taveras quietly taking over Providence schools?

July 1, 2011

Providence School Board leaders say they are frustrated by a last-minute bill that takes teacher contracts out of their hands. House and Senate lawmakers passed the legislation yesterday (Thursday), calling for the mayor, not the school board, to give final approval to teacher contracts in Providence. School Board Chair Kathy Crain says it amounts to a mayoral takeover of city schools.

“Our school department has been stripped of our chief financial officer and our communications officer. Recently the city terminated our school board attorney, and we apparently no longer have the authority to vote on employment contracts,” Crain said. “So yes, I do believe this is a complete removal of a system of checks and balances in our public education system.”

Providence city officials say it makes sense for the mayor and the City Council to have the final say on labor contracts, including teachers, because they are a key driver of the city budget.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Taveras says he is not attempting to takeover city schools, but he does plan to be “hands on” with the school department because he is not satisfied with the pace of improvement.

Governor Lincoln Chafee has not indicated whether he will sign the bill into law. It applies specifically to Providence, where the school board is appointed by the mayor rather than elected, which is unusual in Rhode Island

One Comment leave one →
  1. mem permalink
    July 2, 2011 7:24 pm

    A change of this significance at the very least deserves thoughtful debate about its potential impact on education reform rather than a rush to passage on the last day of the legislative session.

    The governance structure of Providence schools is complex and may very well be a factor in our ability to attract and retain top administrators, most of all the superintendent, who has to navigate the politics and all the players. Perhaps the mayor’s greatest contribution and legacy to education reform would be to take the lead in a comprehensive review of the governance of our schools and to propose redefined roles and responsibilities that make sense for Providence.

    The onus is now on the mayor to arrive at a collective bargaining agreement that ensures both fiscal responsibility and education reform and does not repeat past errors of ceding authority in return for apparent dollar savings.

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