Rhode Island’s new education commissioner Angelica Infante-Green announced her intention this week to use state law to reconstitute the district. That could mean taking control of most aspects of the school district, including budget and personnel.
“Today marks the start of a new era for the Providence schools,’ Infante-Green said in a statement announcing the proposal. “It is time for drastic action.”
According to the Rhode Island Department of Education, the law – known as the Crowley Act – has only been used once: to support state intervention in Hope High School in Providence, and never to take the reins of an entire district.
Rhode Island’s council on elementary and secondary education is expected to vote on Infante-Green’s proposal this Tuesday.
Mayor Jorge Elorza said he believes the state is better positioned to make the sweeping changes deemed necessary to improve the schools, including changes, if necessary, that affect teacher contracts.
According to the mayor the state has “more influence over the contract than we do, and our ability to hire qualified teachers fast enough.”
Elorza’s announcement Friday follows the recent release of a harshly critical Johns Hopkins report calling attention to decades of problems in the Providence schools.
The report has leaders scrambling to come up with solutions to deal with a series of issues, including low test scores, city bureaucracy, and poor relationships among staff, students and administrators.
A statement released by members of the city council, including Council President Sabina Matos, offered similar support for Infante-Green’s plan.
“The City Council remains committed to playing a collaborative role in our children’s educational future,” the statement also included.
When the report was first released earlier this summer city leaders were hesitant to call for a state takeover. The mayor and councilors continue to say they see the state’s role as more of a partnership than a takeover.
City Councilors are also pushing for an audit of the school department’s finances, that goes deeper than the annual audit of the system.
“This will be looking at the finances and to figure out if we’re using it in the most efficient way,” said Council President Matos. “The audit that we do every year is more like the basic finances, check and balance and things like that.”
The city plans to spend some $20 million dollars to fix and upgrade school buildings and infrastructure prior to the start of the new school year, but leaders acknowledge that the problem is much larger than that.