Monday, June 3, 2019

What's happening next door

I've done a bit of tweeting about Rhode Island's efforts to turn around (sorry for the tired verb) education system--they've hired Angélica Infante-Green as their new education commissioner, who of course was a finalist for the Massachusetts education commissioner and may represent a sort of road not taken (an outsider, a Latina, and so forth)--particularly as a number of districts are having eyebrow-raising budget seasons this spring; take a look at Warwick, or Lincoln, or Coventry. All of this is after Rhode Island adopted the MCAS--yes, the Massachusetts state test--as their own state assessment and results in the first year were weak. There's been lots of political fomenting since, 'though what I haven't heard about is any sort of comprehensive funding overhaul.

The Boston Globe has a piece today on the most recent bit, which is the discussion of if the state should take over the Providence school system. The first part that made me sit back in my chair:
[Mayor] Elorza has faced public criticism from members of the council and the Providence Teachers Union for insisting that he interview most people coming to work for the school department, from principals down to crossing guards. A spokesperson for Elorza acknowledged the mayor does like to meet with applicants before they are hired but argued he does not interfere with school department decisions.
When it comes to signing off on contracts with vendors, the council has come under fire for a requirement that it approve all agreements worth more than $5,000. The process has led school department employees to joke that it can cost more than $5,000 in man hours just to prepare a small contract to go before the council. Council leadership has defended the practice, arguing city government needs checks and balances.
...there's somebody who needs some roles and responsbilities work here, and it isn't the school committee.
There is plenty else at work here--Rhode Island, after all, has the same redlined New England districts that Massachusetts does, meaning that the need is concentrated in their cities. Add to that Providence's size relative to the rest of the state, where a district about the same size as Worcester is close to a fifth of the entire state public school enrollment. Infante-Green has been careful not to talk about a "takeover" speaking instead of partnerships, 'though one should of course always approach such terms with care. At this point, all that has been happening is a comprehensive review (which is how we know the bit above from the Globe) with results due later this month.
While Rhode Island hasn't had the same comprehensive funding reform Massachusetts has had once and is over due to have again, it also hasn't had any of the related reforms (catch any Massachusetts mayor insisting as above, for example) around who has what sort of authorities. Between that and the relative proportion of the population involved, expect there to be more Legislative action that might otherwise be the case.

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