The entrance to the 255 Westminster St. offices of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) in Downtown Providence. (Kevin G. Andrade/Rhode Island Current)
PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island education officials Tuesday launched the process to establish regulations transitioning schools under state takeover to local control.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education heard a presentation on the process by officials from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) during its meeting at RIDE offices in downtown Providence. The meeting was the first step in the creation of new regulations to ensure a smooth transition.
The requirement to adopt transition regulations was codified in state law in 2022. They are expected to be pushed by state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green in early winter 2024. Only one district, Providence Public School District, is currently under state control.
“The regulations won’t be limited to Providence but any district in the future taken over by the state,” said Anthony Cottone, chief legal counsel for RIDE, at Tuesday’s meeting.
The state took over the Providence school system in 2019 after a scathing report by Johns Hopkins University exposed a system of toxic environments for staff and students, and perpetually low academic performance. The district is expected to return to local control by 2025, though that can be extended.
The regulations are scheduled to be presented to the board and will be approved for public comment at its Oct. 24. The rules are not expected to be promulgated by state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green until early Winter 2024.
Officials said they consulted local and Massachusetts-based experts in formulating the plan, which would focus on soliciting local public input, examining local capacity for school governance, and to assess progress under a state takeover before handing the reins back to municipal control..
“As we developed that we consulted experts locally and nationally and localized that to Rhode Island as best as possible,” said Brian Darrow, chief strategy officer for RIDE.
RIDE officials said they plan to hold a series of meetings throughout the state in November and December to hear public comment on the regulations.
Board member Marta Martinez, founder and executive director of RI Latino Arts, acknowledged Providence’s domination of the conversation and inquired as to how another district under state fiscal control may be affected.
“We focus on Providence for obvious reasons,” she said. “What about Central Falls?
Central Falls Public Schools have been state funded since a financial crisis in 1991. The school system was allocated more than $60 million in the state’s fiscal year 2024 budget, almost triple the city’s municipal budget of just over $20 million.
“These regulations don’t actually apply to Central Falls,” said Darrow. The school district has been under the control of a state appointed Board of Governors since 2002.
Officials also referred to experts in Massachusetts and locally they spoke with as part of the plan’s formulation. Those included: AJ Crabill, director of governance for The Council of Great City Schools; Paul Reville, former secretary of education for Massachusetts; Martin West, dean of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education; Kenneth Wong, chair of education policy at Brown University, and multiple members of leadership at the Massachusetts Department of Education. That entity is currently supervising yearslong takeovers of schools in Holyoke, Lawrence, and Southbridge.
“I’m wondering whether or not in relation to higher education experts and fields whether you had the opportunity to speak with experts from those district,” said Board Member Colleen Callahan.
Darrow said they had not, though RIDE would actively be looking to speak with them.
Callahan added that she takes the task before the board very seriously.
“I’m all for transition,” she said. “But there are nuances to the decisions that have to be made.”
The board is scheduled to vote to bring the regulations forward for public comment during its Oct. 24 meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at RIDE offices located at 255 Westminster St., Providence.
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