Former CVS CEO Tom Ryan envisioned the arena that bears his name at URI hosting high profile sporting events. Tonight at 5:30 the Ryan Center plays host to a high profile political event as the new state Board of Education begins the process of debating Deborah Gist’s future employment in Rhode Island.
The Board may or may not discuss Gist publicly, but it scheduled an executive session to have its first discussion as a group on whether or not Gist should continue as the commissioner of education. The board, according to its agenda, will also review a report from its personnel committee.
The personnel committee consists of Colleen Callahan, Bill Maaia, Michael Bernstein and Board Chairwoman Eva Mancuso. The personnel committee will make a recommendation to the full board. Gist’s future should be decided in less than a month, people familiar with the process tell me.
Callahan is a former teacher and a current officer with the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Care Professionals, one of the two state teacher unions vociferously opposed to a contract extension for Gist. Both she and fellow Board of Education member Larry Purtill, the elected president of the National Education Association of RI, both attended an educator rally against Gist on Monday at Cranston West. They sat on stage with Bob Walsh and Frank Flynn as teachers and other educators voiced their opposition.
Bernstein, according to his bio, is a former caseworker and director for the state Department of Human Services. Maaia, according to his bio, is a local lawyer and a former labor relations officer with the Department of Education.
Mancuso has said she and Gov. Chafee continue to support Gist.
When Chafee appointed Mancuso to the Board, he said in a statement, “She agrees with me that our public education system is the key to a stronger economy and brighter future for Rhode Island, and she has both the vision and the dedication to ably lead the new Board of Education on behalf of the students of our state.”
Chafee is expected to play a role in whether Gist stays on, and members of his staff has said he feels a sense of loyalty to Gist. But he must also feel a sense of loyalty to the teachers’ unions who helped to elect him and whose pensions he worked to reduce. Organized labor will of course play a big role in the 2014 governor’s race, and Chafee could mend a rift with organized labor by replacing Gist. Interestingly, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, Chafee’s chief competition for progressive support in 2014, is hosting a high profile fundraiser tonight as well.
Gist is seeking a three-year contract extension. A one year extension would put her employment in the spotlight again prior to the 2014 election.