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The political intrigue behind an elected school board in Providence

Providence City Hall.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

The Providence City Council rarely meets at lunchtime, but the clock is ticking if they want to move forward with a proposal to ask voters to decide if they want a partially elected school board instead of a board appointed entirely by the mayor.

The city has until 4 p.m. today to submit November ballot questions to the state Board of Elections, so the council is holding a special meeting at 12:30 p.m. to attempt to override Mayor Jorge Elorza’s veto of the school board ballot question.

Elorza vetoed the plan, which requires voter approval, to move to a school board that would include five elected members and five members appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. He argued that there is no evidence that elected school boards are more effective than appointed ones.

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But this being Providence, there is all kinds of political gamesmanship.

First, the council needs a super majority to override a mayoral veto, which means 10 of the 15 members. August happens to be the council’s recess month, so rounding up 10 members from the beach (or the campaign trail) isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Elorza made a smart political move to issue the veto last Friday before a long weekend because it forced the council to scramble to call today’s special meeting before that 4 p.m. ballot question deadline. He actually could have been more ruthless and vetoed the ballot question yesterday, and the council would have had no recourse.

The council is playing a game of its own.

Traditionally, when the council seeks to ask voters if they want to make changes to the city charter, they approve questions individually – giving the mayor the chance to veto singular issues but not every question.

This time around, the council packaged all the proposed ballot questions into one resolution, which was almost certainly because they knew that even if the mayor didn’t love the school board question, there are plenty of other changes that he supports (like changes to city procurement rules). The assumption was that he would cave.

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Instead, Elorza called the council’s bluff and vetoed everything, which brings us to today’s meeting.

It’s unclear if the council will have the 10 votes it needs to override, even though most of them support moving to a partially elected school board. But Council President John Igliozzi always enjoys putting on a show – especially in the mayor’s face – so it won’t be surprising if he secures the override votes.

This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.