PROVIDENCE — After days of silence and mounting pressure to resign, an agreement between the state education department and Providence Schools Superintendent Harrison Peters has been reached to terminate his contract.
Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green asked Peters to resign Wednesday. Peters has been facing severe criticism for hiring Olayinka Alege, a Providence school administrator who was charged with assault for allegedly forcibly massaging a teenage boy’s foot at a Warwick gym in April.
“An agreement to terminate the employment agreement has been reached following the Commissioner’s request for Peters’ resignation,” said Victor Morente, a spokesman for the state education department.
“Commissioner Infante-Green is a firm believer in the turnaround work that has been done and remains steadfast in her commitment to improve outcomes for Providence students and families,” said Morente in a statement Friday. “The integrity of that work is paramount and she will work diligently to build on the strong foundation laid to ensure the safety and well-being of students and provide them the high-quality education they deserve.”
As part of his exit package, Peters will be paid approximately $170,000 to leave, which is about half of what his contract required he receive if he had been terminated without cause.
Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, who leads the state Senate’s Providence delegation, called the $170,000 payout to Peters “disgraceful.”
“It’s sickening and it’s outrageous,” she said. “He gets $170,000 for being inept and bringing a child predator to Providence? Who’s idea was this?”
Goodwin, who grilled Peters during a Senate committee hearing Monday, said he should have been fired. “He should have walked out the door in shame and never looked back at our beautiful City of Providence,” she said.
Senator Louis P. DiPalma, chairman of the Senate Rules, Government Ethics and Oversight Committee, called the Peters payout “unconscionable.”
“I’m not a lawyer, but I think there could have been termination for cause,” he said. “And there should have been 11 months ago.”
DiPalma, a Middletown Democrat, noted that Peters on Monday told the committee he knew about news reports from 2009 that Alege had been accused of squeezing the toes of multiple boys in Florida – a practice referred to as “toe popping” – but Peters did not tell the hiring committee about that information.
“Even with that, he is benefiting,” DiPalma said. “I understand and appreciate contract law – what it is and what it isn’t – but as a resident of Rhode Island, as a senator, as chairman of the committee, I think it could have been and should have been avoided.”
Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth Calabro called $170,000 “an absurd amount of money to get paid for bringing a predator into our state.”
Infante-Green should have terminated Peters’ contract for cause after giving him due process, Calabro said, arguing that the school district had plenty of cause given such a serious lapse in judgment.
“When you are in the powerful position of a commissioner or superintendent of a school district, it is your job to do your due diligence,” Calabro said. “To bring someone with a history like that into our school district, you have irreparably harmed the trust of the students, the teachers, and the community.”
Alege was arrested on May 10 and pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor assault charge on May 13. He has resigned from his job overseeing middle- and high-school principals in Providence. He was never charged in connection with the Florida incidents.
Peters was introduced in January 2020 by former governor Gina M. Raimondo, Infante-Green, and Rhode Island Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cottam to a crowd of elected officials, teachers, faith leaders, and others involved in the turnaround of Providence public schools.
Peters previously worked at schools in Houston, Chicago, and Charlotte-Mechlenburg in North Carolina. He worked in Florida with Alege prior to coming to Providence. According to reports in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, in 2009, male students accused Alege of squeezing the toes of boys as a bizarre form of punishment.
While Alege was not charged in connection with the Florida incidents, Peters was aware of Alege’s history when he decided to hire Alege as an administrator in Providence.
On Monday, Peters apologized for hiring Alege.
“I thought I knew him,” Peters said a the letter submitted to members of the Senate Committee on Rules, Government Ethics, and Oversight. “But I was wrong. My hiring of Dr. Alege as a network superintendent for Providence Public Schools was an error in judgment. I want to sincerely apologize for any pain or worry this incident has caused students.”
After members of the state Senate oversight committee grilled Peters on Monday about his decision to hire Alege, lawmakers and community members called for Peters to resign.
After a scathing 2019 report by researchers from Johns Hopkins University outlined a series of recurring, disturbing issues that plagued the district, Infante-Green recommended that the state take control over the school system — taking oversight away from the mayor, City Council, and the school board. Peters was hired to help turn around the schools, and was caught in the middle of a contract negotiation with the Providence Teachers Union.
In March 2021, the union took a a vote of no confidence in Infante-Green and Peters after the school department sent displacement notices to 270 employees to inform them that they would have to apply for different jobs in the next school year.
Infante-Green sent families of Providence school students an email Friday that said she was upset and “disturbed” to learn about the charges pressed against Alege. But she said she was “as committed to our turnaround effort as I was on the first day of the state’s intervention a year and a half ago.”
She said she would soon have more information about “interim leadership” for Providence schools. In the meantime, she said her and her team would continue to make any decisions for the district.
In a statement sent by his office, Governor Dan McKee said he strongly supported Infante-Green’s decision to ask Peters for his resignation and that he looked forward to meeting with her to discuss a replacement and path forward for the school district.
“It is now time to move forward with new leadership in the city of Providence and do what is best for students,” said McKee.
According to the settlement agreement, Peters will have to cooperate with the district and respond to any questions “regarding matters which [he] personally had knowledge and responsibility for during the period of his employment.”
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz. Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.