Arlene Violet: The handwriting was on the blackboard

By Arlene Violet
Posted 8/15/21

He may have gone about it the wrong way, but Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza was correct in condemning both the content of and the secrecy surrounding the Providence teacher union contract negotiated …

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Arlene Violet: The handwriting was on the blackboard


He may have gone about it the wrong way, but Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza was correct in condemning both the content of and the secrecy surrounding the Providence teacher union contract negotiated by Governor Dan McKee. The Governor’s penchant for capitulating to teachers was evident months ago when he removed Rhode Island school superintendent Angelica Infante-Green from the negotiations. She had been a staunch supporter of a longer school day and school year and the modification of seniority rules. It will be interesting to see how long she will stay around now that her efforts have been gutted by the business-as-usual style of the governor.

On his part, Governor McKee pitched his decision to the public within the context that he didn’t want to start the new school year without a contract because that could result in a potential chaotic start. This rationale rings hollow. As Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Superintendents observed, the Governor could have given a raise but limited the contract to one year with the understanding that the issues raised by Ms. Infante-Greene would be on the table for negotiation during the ensuing months.

Like everything else in Rhode Island a report like the one that was done by Johns Hopkins University institute for Education Policy which gave a blistering criticism of the Providence School system is greeted with a “Tut tut! What a shame!” response by politicians only to be followed by a lack of guts to confront the systemic issues. Mayor Elorza is correct that the teacher union runs the school and runs the Governor when it comes to educational prerogatives. The children come out the losers again.

Losers also are the renters in Rhode Island, many of whom live in Providence with children attending the public schools, because of the tortoise-like distribution of rent relief aid. Mr. Biden, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, renewed the ban on evictions for 60 days in counties where the COVID cases are at elevated levels. States are struggling to deliver almost $47 billion in rental assistance. Rhode Island is no exception. Seventeen months into the pandemic the now-McKee administration has distributed just $8 million or just a little over 4% of its $200 million allocation. Rhode Island Housing, which has the responsibility to administer the governmental funds, has blamed technical problems with its site. It replaced the tech vendor with another and went live on May 20, yet only 0.6% of the funds have been awarded. The state is now behind the proverbial eight-ball since unless 60% or $120 million is awarded by the end of September, the remaining funds are forfeited back to the government. If past practices are any indication of upcoming implementation during August and September, the taxpayers will see a ton of money thrown at the problem without the necessary checks and balances to prevent fraud. With 12% of Rhode island renters behind in their rents (New York Times survey) nothing will be more “chaotic” to school openings than the displacement of children from low income areas like Providence.

Formidable, then, are the obstacles facing urban children as they try to get an education. Neither the Providence Teacher’s contract nor rental assistance program has come to their rescue.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.