Deadline to Renew Gist’s Contract Passes in Rhode Island

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In Rhode Island, the deadline has passed for the State Board of Education to announce its intent to renew Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s contract.

However, Rhode Island Board of Education Chairwoman Eva-Marie Mancuso is asking the public to not read too much into the situation, and that no decision has been made either way on Gist’s future.

“There have been no substantive discussions at all,” Mancuso said Friday. “All we have done as a council is review her performance.”

Gist’s current two-year contract expires this June and requires a six-month notification if there are plans to renew, which passed this December. However, the board can still choose to reenlist Gist so long as a new contract is negotiated.

According to Mancuso, that six-month time frame was added to the contract as a courtesy to the commissioner.  The same time frame is included in the contracts of the higher education commissioner as well as the state’s three college presidents.

“We think it’s fair that Commissioner Gist has the opportunity to engage with the governor before a final decision is made,” said Patrick Guida, chairman of the Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education. “It’s appropriate for the board to defer to the governor’s input on how she would like to see education leadership roll out.”’

While the board will have the final say in who is to be the commissioner, the governor is an ex-officio member of the board specifically for the purpose of hiring the commissioner, writes Linda Borg for The Providence Journal.

Teachers’ unions are excited by the passing deadline, hoping that it means Governor-Elect Gina Raimondo will hire a new commissioner.  Since taking office in 2009 Gist has alienated teachers, including her push for tougher teacher evaluations which are currently set to include student test scores in 2017.

Early in her tenure Gist became responsible for obtaining a $75 million federal Race to the Top grant.  In addition, she has pushed for increased access to preschool programs and full-day kindergarten, which Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed has said she will continue to make a top priority for 2015.

While many of Gist’s views on education policy are in line with Raimondo’s, the Governor-Elect would like to mend relationships with teachers, who are feeling ignored while the focus has been placed on upgrading public education in the state.  According to leaders of the teachers’ unions, these feelings are so strong among members that it could be difficult to improve any relationships without a change in leadership at the State Department of Education.

Gist has made it clear she would like to stay in her position, reports Dan McGowan for WPRI.

“I hope to continue to work in the best interest of Rhode Island students and to make our schools America’s best, and I would be honored to continue my service as a member of Governor Raimondo’s cabinet,” Gist said Friday.

In the meantime, the Rhode Island Department of Education is meeting to consider a proposal from five charter schools in the state who would like to be able to enroll more students.  The plan, which is up for a vote on Monday, is supported by Gist, who is recommending that it be approved.