Senate panel clears first nominees for combined Education Board; critics unmollified

Feb 6, 2013

Education Board nominee Michael Grande (center) responds to a question from state Senator Edward O'Neill.
Credit Ian Donnis

A legislative committee on Wednesday approved four nominees for a combined board overseeing K-through-12 and higher education. But critics still question whether the merged education board is a good idea.

A stream of witnesses touted the commitment to public education of the four nominees. The Senate Education Committee approved each of them by at least 8 of 10 votes.

Senator Edward O’Neill (I-Lincoln) voted for only one of the four nominees, Michael Grande, a Warwick accountant. O'Neill says there aren’t enough hours in the day for volunteers to handle the workload for an education board overseeing K-through 12 and higher education. O’Neill also criticizes how two of the nominees work for teachers’ unions.

"I don’t see it working," the senator said after the committee meeting, referring to the combined education board. "When we appoint candidates to the board based upon their labor relations connections and you know, political connections, I think we’re making a huge mistake."

The president of one of the state’s largest teachers’ unions, Larry Purtill of the National Education Association Rhode Island, was approved on an eight-to-two vote. When asked about potential conflicts, Purtill said he will recuse himself from voting on contracts involving his members in his union.

“I want to emphasize that I think the role of all 11 people on this committee has to be the education – what’s best for the children of Rhode Island and the students of Rhode Island,” Purtill said.

The four newly approved nominees include two members of a previous board that oversaw K-through 12 education: Colleen Callahan of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, and retired state employee Mathies Santos. The four nominees face approval by the full Senate.

Seven more nominees will be considered by the Education Committee next week, including the envisioned chair, Eva Marie Mancuso. She was nominated by Governor Lincoln Chafee after an earlier nominee for chair, George Caruolo, backed out.

The General Assembly combined two separate education boards in a budget vote last June. Supporters say doing the merger will promote coordination between lower and higher education.

Yet Grande said during the committee meeting that the two previous boards would likely still exist if better communication had been maintained between one of the panels and the General Assembly.