Tempers flare at end of rather benign East Providence School Committee meeting

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EAST PROVIDENCE — A rather benign East Providence School Committee meeting Tuesday night, Sept. 25, ended in a caustic outburst against a sitting member of the board by his would-be successor.

Committee member Stephen Furtado sat apparently stunned in his chair on the City Hall chamber dais as his challenger in this year’s Ward 2 election, Anthony Ferreira, angrily questioned his motives for offering up a proposal that would require volunteers in the city schools to have background checks.

Mr. Ferreira, a regular attendee and speaker at not just School Committee meetings but also those held by the City Council and the Budget Commission, first asked why Mr. Furtado did not participate in the previous weekend’s community-infused build of the new playground at the Orlo Avenue Elementary School. Mr. Ferreira, to his credit, has been at the forefront of the project and was one of the volunteers cited by the Orlo PTA for his assistance throughout the process.

School Committee Chairman Charlie Tsonos, who cautioned Mr. Ferreira to avoid any “personal attacks” in his commentary, repeatedly tried to quell the commotion by banging his gavel, though he did so to little avail.

“We’ve basically for the last two, two-and-a-half years been working on these playgrounds around the city and we’ve never had a problem,” Mr. Ferreira explained in a follow-up telephone interview. “We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of people volunteer over the years and we’ve never had an incident. I didn’t want people who spent an hour or so with us the other day walk away wondering what happened because of what Steve said.”

Anthony Ferreira

Following the meeting, Mr. Furtado reached out to The Post to clarify his original proposal, saying, “I placed on the agenda a suggestion for a district policy requiring background checks on all in school volunteers. Many districts and states already have this safeguard in place. I believe that it would be one more step toward having a safe school environment for our children.”

He continued, “To my surprise, this suggestion was met with some loud opposition. One parent leader was concerned with the cost being prohibitive and keeping volunteers away. I understand her fears but I assured her that the cost is minimal, and that we as a district would reach out to the authorities to negotiate a possible reduction. ”

Mr. Ferreira, his temper and voice both rising in concert, continued his verbal bashing of Mr. Furtado, telling his election opponent if his intent was to quash “volunteerism” in East Providence, he would not be successful in his effort.

“For him to utter those words, it really irritated me,” Mr. Ferreira said of Mr. Furtado’s proposal a few days later. “I do got a quick temper, but for someone to try to scare volunteers away I get extremely defensive instantaneously because our community, especially in these difficult times, needs these kinds of efforts.”

Throughout Mr. Ferreira’s roughly two to three-minute diatribe, Mr. Furtado uttered barely a word. His family members and supporters of Mr. Ferreira seated in the audience exchanged a couple of barbs before the atmosphere settled and the meeting was adjourned shortly thereafter.

“My opponent, Anthony Ferreira spoke up against the idea,” Mr. Furtado added.  “Most everyone who witnessed his tirade were overwhelmed by his shouting, and his unprofessional conduct. Why he is so strongly opposed to having background checks for in school volunteers is unbelievable. Would he rather allow sex offenders the ability to work with our children? I really don’t think so. But his outburst at the school committee meeting was unacceptable.”

Stephen Furtado

“My opponent also questioned my volunteerism. That is a matter of public record. I have been a member of several PTA and PTO groups as well as several non-profit boards and commissions in the city for over 15 years,” Mr. Furtado concluded. “It seems plain to me that I have nothing against volunteering. My only goal is as it always has been; the safety and education of our children.”

For his part, Mr. Ferreira said he reached out to Mr. Furtado after the meeting. He said the two talked cordially and he wanted bygones to be bygones.

“Win or lose this election, I want to work with Steve because I know he has some expertise I can learn from,” Mr. Ferreira added. “With what we’re dealing with in this city, it’s important that we keep having people volunteer their time.”

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