East Providence School Committee members take fellow pols to task over infrastructure

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EAST PROVIDENCE — At a special session conducted Friday night, June 28, at City Hall, members of the East Providence School Committee took some of their fellow elected officials to task for their reluctance to meet to discuss the rapidly declining state of the city’s school buildings.

The shots across the bow came during a discussion about East Providence High School’s accreditation through New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), a regional oversight body that determines if schools are providing students with proper skills in an acceptable environment.

East Providence High was last accredited for a 10-year period in 2008. Five years in, Superintendent Kim Mercer, Committee members as well as EPHS administrators and faculty recently met with NEASC representatives for a mid-point progress review.

It was determined in the areas of teaching and learning, EPHS mentors and pupils are doing “phenomenal” in the words of Mrs. Mercer. “They’re right where they need to be,” she added.

However, the structure of the school itself remains a concern for NEASC. “The physical plant needs to be addressed,” Mrs. Mercer said, noting specifically the sorry state of the EPHS Science facilities and how much of the building remains non-compliant with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“We need to take a good look (at the building) in the very near future and address the problems that are there,” said Mrs. Mercer, who in an attempt to dispel rumors to the contrary emphasized EPHS would be operational in the fall.

“The teaching and learning, there’s no fears there,” Mrs. Mercer said about the possibility EPHS would lose its accreditation down the line. “The physical plant is our concern. The school will be open in the fall. There’s no worry there.”

The pointed comments of Committee members were aimed at City Councilmen James Briden, Helder Cunha and Thomas Rose, who have repeatedly declined to hold a joint meeting with the School Committee as has been suggested and approved by the two other Council members, Chrissy Rossi and Tracy Capobianco.

Anthony Ferreira was the most vocal of the Committee members in noting his disappointment with his fellow pols. He said before he was elected to office last November he “sat out there” in the audience for “four or five years” and would hear the same things said “month after month after month” but that “nothing changes.”

Mr. Ferreira added, “We need a plan. We need to pull together, build a road together, repave it and drive through it.”

School Committee Chairman Joel Monteiro also expressed his disappointment with the Council members for their unwillingness to meet, but said it was imperative for him as the titular head of the Committee to be more assertive on the issue. He urged the public to become more engaged as well.

“I know I can do more to reach out,” Mr. Monteiro added. “And we need to get the people on board. They need to hold their (elected officials’) feet to the fire.”

Mr. Ferreira was even more fiery in further remarks, adding, “If we don’t work together, there’s an election in 15 months and I’m going to try to remove you from your seat” if the same Council members continued to be uncooperative. Mr. Ferreira went so far as to say he would put a sign on his van with the Councilors’ names and noting their refusal to tackle the issue.

A bit more measured in his comments, Committee member Tim Conley said the status of the high school and of school building in general in the city was “the most important” issue East Providence currently faces and that to rectify the infrastructure problems it’s going to take a significant amount of money.

“We need to solve this together as a city. No one person can resolve this,” Mr. Conley said. “It is incumbent upon us to inform the people of these problems and to tell them what our plan is to fix it.

“There’s no sugarcoating it. We need to tell the people this is where we are and this is what we need to do to accomplish it.”

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