John Igliozzi is president of the Providence City Council and chair of the Charter Review Commission. He represents Ward 7.
I cannot imagine a more democratic process than electing parents and civically active folks to represent their neighborhoods on the city school board to complement those appointed by the mayor. Providence’s Charter Review Commission (a body that reviews city constitution changes every 10 years) recently recommended a proposal to move from a nine-person, mayoral-appointed school board to a 10-person hybrid board.
The new board would include five nonpartisan elected members from five equal regions of the city (north, south, east, west and central) and five members appointed by the mayor. Terms would begin in 2025.
A hybrid school board would ensure accountability for all and empower parents, guardians and families. Moving to a hybrid model is not an indictment of the current board but one that drives the city forward with equal representation. You are accountable to a broader group of people when you are elected. When you are appointed, you are accountable to one. Are we adding politics to our school system? I would argue, what’s more political than having one person select nine?
A hybrid offers a solution with the best of both worlds: neighborhood representation coupled with the focused expertise of appointed members in fields such as finance and contract negotiation.
Over six months, we heard many impactful stories during the Charter Review Commission’s weekly meetings. Former City Councilman and commissioner Bryan Principe shared a troubling account of when he and his family learned his young daughter’s school, West Broadway Elementary, was closing. A little note had been tucked in her backpack before winter break. Despite vocal opposition from parents, Principe said the school board made a decision to shut the doors with “zero input from the community.”
Those families had no seat at the table. The system marginalized those residents. The school board failed them.
It is no secret that Providence schools are in trouble. The state Department of Education is now operating the Providence Public School District after years of poor performance. As elected leaders, we must do everything we can to support the state turnaround of the system, and eventually, the department’s stewardship will again be placed in the city’s hands. Can we make our learning environment better? I believe we can.
A hybrid school board would create both the interest and pressure to work collectivelyfor the betterment of the entire community. Every neighborhood in our city deserves representation at the board level. We owe it to our families and their children. If Providence cannot educate its 22,000 students with decent, quality education, we fail not only our diverse, cosmopolitan city but the state too, an impact that will reverberate beyond our city limits.
On Thursday, the Providence City Council voted in favor of putting the question of a hybrid school board before voters in the fall. Residents have had the opportunity to weigh in through several public hearings but will ultimately get to express their voices in the most impactful way – a November ballot.