PROVIDENCE — Mayor Jorge Elorza plans to veto a proposed ballot question that would ask city voters if they want to move from a mayoral-appointed school board to a partially elected school board in 2024.
Elorza, a term-limited Democrat who will leave office in January, has signaled for months that he prefers the current process that grants the City Council advice and consent over the mayor’s appointees (similar to the US Senate’s confirmation process with presidential cabinet members) rather than allowing voters to pick school board members.
“I agree wholeheartedly that Providence public schools need radical change but disagree that hybrid school board is the answer,” Elorza wrote in a letter to the council. “There is no evidence showing that elected school boards are better than appointed ones in boosting student performance. An in fact, there’s ample evidence showing that they are no better. I strongly believe that injecting more politics into our schools would be a terrible outcome.”
But with the state currently in control of Providence schools, the city’s Charter Review Commission recommended asking voters to determine if they want a partially elected board — five would still be appointed, and five would be elected — on November’s ballot.
City Council President John Igliozzi said the council will attempt to override Elorza’s veto at special meeting next week, but the clock is ticking because the state’s deadline for questions to be added to the November ballot is Aug. 10 at 4 p.m.
In a statement Friday, Igliozzi said that a veto would mean that all ballot questions that the council has already approved would not move forward, including many that Elorza supports. One question would alter the city charter to include gender-neutral titles, like chairperson, instead of chairman.
“The mayor’s reckless actions are precisely why the city needs a hybrid school board,” Igliozzi said in a statement. “City residents should not be beholden to one person making unilateral decisions. A hybrid school board promotes more community involvement and more representation from all our neighborhoods.”
Providence is one of the few school districts in Rhode Island that has a mayoral-appointed school board, and previous mayors have opposed efforts to move to an elected board. Mayors have traditionally argued that they’re ultimately held accountable by voters for the school system, so they should have final say over who sits on the board.
Elorza has had a mixed relationship with the school board since taking office, including a public clash with former school board president Keith Oliveira during his first term in office. He supported attorney and lobbyist Nick Hemond to replace Oliveira, and the two enjoyed a strong relationship until Hemond stepped away last year. The current school board president, Kinzel Thomas, also opposes an elected board.
The school board lost much of its power when the state took control of Providence schools in 2019, but state leaders say the district will eventually be returned to city control at some point in the next decade (there is no definitive date).