Metro, News

University to coordinate with RIDE as state takes over PVD schools

Unprecedented takeover reaction to scathing review of Providence schools

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, September 13, 2019

In light of a blistering review that persuaded the Rhode Island Department of Education to take control of the Providence Public School District this fall, the University will coordinate with RIDE and begin a new chapter in its longstanding involvement in the district.

The Providence public schools’ deficiencies were exposed in an independent review conducted by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Educational Policy May 2019, The Herald previously reported. The report described school conditions so deplorable that it had the “review team in tears,” according to the Boston Globe.

The takeover process will proceed after an administrative hearing scheduled for this morning at the University’s School of Professional Studies.

Twelve years before this unprecedented R.I. state takeover, the University promised to raise $10 million for a PPSD endowment. Since then, the University has raised only $1.9 million, the Boston Globe reported. However, the University invests far more in PPSD each year than the endowment would have generated annually for the district had the fundraising reached its $10 million goal, wrote Director of News and Editorial Development Brian Clark in an email to The Herald.

Brown’s role in the takeover

President Christina Paxson P’19 said that the University will support the strategy developed by RIDE Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, who is in charge of the state’s management of PPSD. The University plans to develop its own response by the end of the fall semester.

“This is an opportunity to take a step back, think about how we can collaborate very closely with the commissioner and develop a plan,” Paxson said.

A campus task force is working to develop the University’s strategy in supporting the state takeover, Clark wrote. The University “is committed to developing actions based on close conversations with the commissioner and others in the community to learn what is substantively going to create the best and lasting solutions,” Clark wrote.

As the University formulates an official response to the report, its Annenberg Institute for School Reform has hired a new education coordinator, Soljane Martinez, who will act as a liaison between the University and PPSD.

In 2018, the University’s Annenberg Institute shifted its mission away from focusing on community-based educational outreach to research. When this shift occurred, Provost Richard Locke P’18 told The Herald that it is “not one of (our) core competencies to do capacity building for communities. What we do is research and teaching, and it’s through our research and teaching that we have an impact (on) the world.” This decision was met with concern from former staff members who saw value in the way the Institute shaped local schools, The Herald previously reported.

Paxson said that the Annenberg continues to bring research to Brown that focuses on how school districts can better serve families, developing expertise that is valued by the state. “I don’t think any realignment in (the Annenberg’s) mission is warranted,” she said.

That same year, the University suspended the elementary track of its Masters of Arts in Teaching program, a decision that was met with frustration by students and staff, The Herald previously reported.  Paxson is not considering bringing back the MAT program in light of the report, she told The Herald. “Bringing (back) the elementary (MAT program) is not on the radar.”

When asked what responsibility Brown has in assisting PPSD, she said, “We want to have strong schools here. … The students who are in the schools now are going to be our future employees … and students.”

University funding of PPSD

In 2007 under President Ruth Simmons’ tenure, the University established and promised to fundraise for a $10 million endowment, the Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence. Twelve years later, it has only raised $1.9 million for this Fund, the Boston Globe reported.

The shortfall between the University’s goal and actual funds raised reported by the Globe is accurate. But Clark wrote to The Herald that current overall University investments in PPSD far exceed the potential returns that the full endowment would have created. “Had the Fund reached $10 million, it would have generated about $450,000 to $500,000 a year, compared to the excess of $840,000 we directly invest annually in the schools,” Clark wrote.

Clark estimated this $450,000 to $500,000 annual withdrawal using a payout rate of 4.5 to 5 percent, which is consistent with recent years’ payout rates for the University’s endowment. The payout rate refers to the amount taken out of the Fund every year and invested in PPSD. For reference, the University’s operating budget pulled about 4.9 percent from its endowment last fiscal year, and higher ed institutions across the country averaged similar payout rates for their 2017 endowments. In the Globe article, Mayor Jorge Elorza estimated that the Fund would have generated $600,000 per year had it reached $10 million, calculating from a six percent return rate.

Victor Morente, spokesperson for the mayor’s office, wrote in an email to The Herald that the University’s contributions to PPSD greatly exceed the amount the Fund would have generated had it reached its $10 million goal. “The Mayor has worked closely with Brown University and President Paxson to identify opportunities for Brown to support work within the PPSD,” he wrote, adding that “while the Fund for Education is a critical piece of Brown’s investment, the current allocation of funds far exceeds the expected annual impact of the Fund alone.”

The University chose to change the main source of its investments in PPSD when the Fund did not meet its $10 million objective. “We made an intentional choice to spend from Brown’s operating budget to ensure that we’re meeting our commitment,” Clark wrote, attributing this decision to the University’s senior leadership team “early in the presidency of President Paxson.”

As of 2017, the University’s $840,000 annual investment in PPSD included $70,000 generated by the Fund. The vast majority of this investment is taken out of the University’s operating budget, Clark wrote to The Herald.

The majority of this investment, $615,000 or about 73 percent, provides “direct support (salaries and materials) for programs in schools or for Providence students on campus,” such as Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring, the University chapter of the College Advising Corps and the Bonner Community Fellows Program, Clark wrote. About another 21 percent goes toward scholarships to summer programs, including Brown’s Summer High School.

The University still hopes to grow the original Fund to $10 million, Clark wrote.

Beyond Brown: The state takeover

The R.I. Council on Elementary and Secondary Education authorized Commissioner Infante-Green to take over PPSD from city control July 23, The Herald previously reported. The Crowley Act, a 1997 law that authorizes RIDE to intervene in failing schools, allows the state to take control administratively while the city continues to fund the system.

Since late July, RIDE has conducted nine public forums with parents, students, teachers and school communities to hear about “their experiences and perspectives,” said RIDE Communications Director Meg Geoghegan. The state’s immediate priorities are to appoint a new superintendent and conduct a budget analysis, she added. The interim superintendent, Frances Gallo, will be replaced at an unspecified date with a new superintendent who would report directly to Infante-Green. The state has not yet conducted a financial analysis to budget necessary reforms and solutions to the issues identified in the report.

Geoghegan stressed that it’s still “too early to say” exactly what the state’s intervention will look like. In the long run, RIDE intends to begin addressing the report’s challenges by making changes to Providence classroom culture. Geoghegan cited measures for increasing school safety, restricting in-classroom cell phone policy and expanding professional development days to include trainings in culturally responsive teaching.

Next steps

An administrative hearing about the state’s interaction with PPSD is scheduled for today. The four parties that the commissioner authorized to speak — the mayor, the school board, the city council and the interim superintendent — did not formally express a desire to participate in the hearing by the Sept. 4 deadline.

The school board and the mayor’s office have made public suggestions as to how the state should proceed in the takeover. “PPSD sees the state’s intervention as an opportunity to create real, lasting change in our schools,” wrote Emily Martineau, director of public affairs at PPSD, in an email to The Herald.

Elorza wants the takeover to “prioritize robust community engagement” so that “everything is on the table, because the status quo is not working,” Morente wrote.

As the hearing takes shape, many community members are asking for a chance to be heard. The Rhode Island Center for Justice, a nonprofit legal organization, is filing a motion to RIDE on behalf of parents, students and youth organizations asking to be recognized as official “parties to the action” in Friday’s hearing. RIDE is reviewing the petition, and Commissioner Infante-Green will determine whether or not they can participate in the hearing this morning, according to Jennifer Wood ’81 P’15, the executive director of the Center for Justice.

The parents and students represented by the Center for Justice “have been clamoring for dramatic improvements to the Providence public schools for decades,” she told The Herald. “Their message is, ‘don’t do it without us.’”

— with reporting by Sophie Culpepper

  • Tunya Audain

    In physical distance I’m very far away from Providence, RI, (west coast of Canada) but in spirit I feel very close to the hopes and aspirations of the students and parents. I’ve read the report and see too many agents already sharing the education pie. Now the University and the Center for Justice also aim to be involved. Of course, all well-meaning people and organizations should have the opportunity, in hearings and other means, to offer their advice and help in improving the dismally poor record of education achievement in the public schools.

    But, maybe stop and consider reframing this calamity. Maybe too many cooks do spoil the soup. Maybe there are far too many beneficiaries benefitting from the education dollar with little left for the intended recipients, the students. Consider this statement about free colleges and “rent-seeking” and how this way of analyzing might offer a better approach to examining the Providence problem.

    “. . . free college tuition for everyone may sound worthwhile and generous, but it doesn’t take long to notice that the major beneficiaries would be rent-seeking college administrators and faculty members and that there might be better ways to make higher education more affordable to students with limited financial means.” (Robert M Whapples, New Thinking About Social Justice, The Independent Review: a journal of political economy, Sept 2019)

    I would strongly suggest that someone prepare a study of how “rent-seeking” plays into the problems exposed in the Providence public school system.