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Kevin Cullen

Don’t ignore RCC students

When Governor Deval Patrick breezed into Roxbury Community College last Tuesday with $20 million in his pocket for the beleaguered school, Ricardo Canuto was 3 miles away, behind the counter at the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Washington Street in Dorchester.

“I didn’t know he was going to be there,” said Canuto, a second-year student at RCC. “None of the students knew he was going to be there. It’s like they kept it a secret. If I knew, I would have gotten someone to work my shift and I would have tried to talk to the governor.”

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Ricardo Canuto is 21 years old and works 50 hours a week at the KFC, where he is the assistant manager. He works five 10-hour days. When he’s not taking orders from the drive-through and filling 12-piece buckets, he’s studying criminal justice. When he finishes two years at RCC, he wants to go on to UMass-Boston and eventually become a cop.

He knows all about crime, because what has been done to him and the other 3,911 students at RCC is nothing short of that. The school is a textbook case of dysfunction and administrative hubris and neglect.

Former school president Terrence Gomes and other administrators watched their pay skyrocket while everything else around them crumbled.

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In one of Canuto’s classes, he nervously eyes a part of the ceiling that appears on the verge of collapse. The cafeteria sits in total disrepair. Canuto knows a student who tripped and got hurt in the pock-marked parking lot. There are not enough textbooks. There are not enough computers.

“Most of the teachers are good. I’ve had great teachers. But there’s a lot that needs to be fixed,” he said. “The frustrating thing is, no one has asked us, the students. We know what’s wrong. We know what needs to be fixed. But no one’s asking us.

“I was glad that the governor went to RCC. But don’t just throw $20 million at the school and walk away. He needs to hear what we know.”

Students notice the things others don’t.

“You walk around campus and pick up the security phones,” Canuto said. “A lot of them don’t work.”

Now, it was extremely welcome that the governor would personally stop by the Roxbury campus and pledge his support. Things are moving in the right direction. Gomes is gone.

Patrick has revamped the board of trustees. But he is entrusting the school’s future to administrators who have presided over RCC’s slide and oversight to a board facing a learning curve.

What about the students who people the halls at Roxbury Community College? What about the ones who navigate the buildings, who know what works and what doesn’t, who know who works and who doesn’t?

“If you ask any of the students, I think they’d all say we need more computers at the school,” Canuto said. “There just aren’t enough. If the governor asked me, I’d tell him, ‘It’s not just about more money. I want you to put it where it needs to go.’ ’’

Most of the $20 million the governor pledged is already committed to renovating classrooms and overhauling a couple of campus buildings.

But if the troubles at RCC teach us anything, it’s time to think outside the box, to bring in ideas from those who have had the most to lose and now stand the most to gain if things are done right.

Canuto says he and a group of students are trying to arrange a sitdown with the governor.

The invitation is open. The students are waiting. They like their governor. They just want to talk to him.

And if it’s easier, the governor can always drop by the KFC on Washington Street, near the courthouse in Dorchester. Ricardo Canuto’s there Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 in the morning until 8 at night.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
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