In the coming days, many of us will observe Holy Week or Passover’s Festival of Freedom. I hope that those of you who observe these holidays find meaning and fulfillment. This week’s letter will discuss the conclusion of the State’s search for a Providence superintendent, and how it underscores the need for greater oversight and accountability.
The State’s Unilateral Announcement Of A Permanent Superintendent
As you may remember from my March 27 letter, Rhode Island’s Department of Education (RIDE) effectively lost a full year to fill a vacancy in the office of Superintendent after its first search (which violated School Board Policy) produced a failed candidate. In response, a group of eight legislators wrote a March 24 letter to the Commissioner urging a prompt search that complied with the School Board’s transparency guidelines, and to respond to our request on an urgent basis. We received a Response at 10:15 this past Tuesday morning, approximately 45 minutes after RIDE held a press conference announcing their decision to hire Dr. Javier Montanez as the permanent Superintendent without conducting a formal search. While the content of the Response amounts to a non-responsive “lawyer’s letter”, the greater disappointment was RIDE’s decision to sandbag our group by offering no response at all until after they made and announced their decision. We were not the only legislators who felt they were sandbagged. The previous Thursday night (March 31), the Commissioner appeared before the House Finance Education Subcommittee (you can watch the video by clicking here), and in response to Representative Slater’s question concerning the Superintendent search (at the 27 minute mark in the video), the Commissioner stated that nothing had been decided, but that “there will be a process that will be released soon” to describe a full participatory search.
I wish Superintendent Montanez every possible success, and I will work to support the success of the State takeover and the Providence Public Schools generally. With that said, RIDE’s decision to ignore the public’s concerns about the process of this search represented yet another avoidable mistake. In its letter, RIDE stated that it believed that the need for continuity and stability outweighed the value of a formal search. Even accepting that premise, however, RIDE could have handled this situation in a more transparent and accountable manner. When I served on the School Board, Superintendent Diana Lam abruptly left, and we were worried that we would lose a capable Assistant Superintendent (Melody Johnson) if we followed the procedures in our search policy. Over the course of several meetings held over several weeks, we reviewed a formal amendment to our search policy to deal with specifically defined emergencies, during which time the public could see exactly what we proposed and offer their input. Once the policy was in place, we followed its requirements, and Dr. Johnson did a wonderful job. RIDE’s decision to conceal and mislead (however noble its intentions) was yet another avoidable error that underscores the need for the passage of legislation such as Senate Bill 2838 and its companion House Bill 8094 that would create an accountability and engagement structure for the State’s takeover of the Providence Public Schools.
Seeking Your Support
I am grateful for the opportunity you provided me to serve as our Senator. In my five months in office, I have learned much about the legislative process and the State’s budget, while beginning to develop my own legislative agenda to advance the policy goals of our District, our City and our State. Because of the timing of the special election that brought me into office, I am now beginning my re-election campaign for this year’s September 13 Democratic Party primary and (if I win the nomination) the November 8 election. As described in my November 7 letter, last year’s campaign was significantly more expensive than my previous City Council campaigns, and I was not able to raise sufficient contributions to cover my expenses. For that reason, I am scheduling a fund raising reception for Wednesday, May 4 at 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the India Restaurant at 1060 Hope Street (details below). If you wish to attend, you can purchase a ticket by clicking on this link. If you are unable to attend but wish to contribute to my campaign (at whatever level of support you choose), you can do so by clicking here.
Thank you for your consideration.