House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield) on Wednesday harshly criticized the absence of any Republican lawmakers on a school funding formula working group, as well as how Governor Gina Raimondo handled the response to his request to include a GOP representative.
Raimondo unveiled the panel to examine school funding on October 22, according to a news release. The 29-member panel includes four Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Gregg Amore, a teacher in East Providence; Senate Finance Chairman Daniel DaPonte of East Providence; Sen. Hanna Gallo of Cranston; and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero of Jamestown. A former Democratic rep, Lisa Tomasso, is also on the group.
In a statement, Newberry said he “was immediately struck by the lack of Republican legislative appointments to this important high profile endeavor despite the Governor’s ability to squeeze four Democratic legislators onto the 29 member committee. Given that protocol calls for bipartisan legislative appointments to committees like this I assumed it was an oversight and the next day I requested a Republican House member be added to bring some bipartisan flavor, an obvious benefit to all.”
“First they ignored it," Newberry continued. "Then the stonewalling began. They told me they needed the Speaker’s permission, an odd excuse given this was an exclusive Gubernatorial operation but I suggested they were free to ask him if they thought it important. Speaker [Nicholas] Mattiello confirmed that no one broached the subject and, of course, he had no objection to adding a GOP member.”
Scott Avedisian, the Republican mayor of Warwick, was added to the education funding group after it was established.
Raimondo's office declined to respond directly to questions about the absence of GOP lawmakers' representation on the school funding group, or a lag in responding described by Newberry. Spokeswoman Ashley O'Shea said the education panel includes a variety of leaders and is focused on improving public schools.
Yet Newberry, using uncharacteristically sharp language, said he was upset by how the governor's office did not respond to his request before rejecting it without explanation, he said, after 39 days.
"This is bizarre behavior with only two explanations," Newberry said. "Minority representation provides transparency so the whole operation may be a sham with an ulterior motive. If so, current members ought to be resentful that their time is being wasted and their good names are being unwittingly used to provide cover for something. The other explanation is that the Governor lives in a tone deaf bubble with no care for public perception and this is another in a long line of missteps such as hiding the ball on her truck toll plan, fighting common sense public records requests and generally trying to prevent public scrutiny of her actions. Frankly, I suspect it is a combination of both," and could help explain why Raimondo's approval rating came in at 46 percent in a recent poll.
O'Shea responded to questions about the points raised by Newberry with this statement:
"The Governor is committed to finding the best solutions for our kids. With the Funding Formula Working Group, there is a diverse set of leaders at the table -- including parents, educators, business leaders and elected officials from both parties. We all need to work together to fix our schools and give our students the skills they need - this is about getting to work. We welcome public participation at these open meetings and look forward to continued collaboration with the legislature on this important issue."
This post has been updated; an earlier version of this story did not mention Scott Avedisian's eventual inclusion in the education funding working group.