Privately, at least some in the education reform movement are quite concerned. They say Chafee's decision to move Flanders off the board and oust Angus Davis, a strong education reform advocate who backed Chafee's gubernatorial rival Frank Caprio, doesn't bode well. They worry about Bernal's ties to organized labor. And they fear that Caruolo's past support for charter schools could serve as political cover for the sort of reform slowdown that Chafee has advocated.
Chafee's spokesman Mike Trainor insists that there was no litmus test for any of the nominees. But after lengthy conversations with each, Trainor said, the governor was convinced that they share his broad view that there needs to be "a lot more attention on the [traditional] public schools," as opposed to charter schools.
Chafee has called for a "thoughtful pause" on charter school expansion — a move, critics contend, that could jeopardize Rhode Island's access to the $75 million it won last year in the federal Race to the Top competition. The state pledged to expand its charter school infrastructure, after all, when it applied for the money.
There is also a concern that Gist, the education commissioner, might not stick around if the governor and his picks for the board undermine the reform effort. That speculation made for some awkward moments at the press conference Tuesday, as Chafee and Gist fielded questions — side-by-side — about whether they can work together.
Chafee's supporters have sought to tamp down all the chatter: the Race to the Top money is not truly at risk, they say; the new board can agree on plenty, they say. The governor, at the press conference, offered praise for Gist and dismissed any suggestion that his picks were tailored to please the teachers unions, which supported him during the campaign.
Now, the nominees head to the state Senate for approval. One would expect real scrutiny, given the Senate President's vocal support for Gist and education reform. But at least one key senator — Hanna Gallo, the Cranston Democrat who chairs the education committee — seems amenable to the governor's choices.
"I don't see any problems," said Gallo, who supports Chafee's call for a "thoughtful pause" on charter schools. "They all seem fine. They're all very knowledgeable."
The governor, it seems, is poised to make his stamp on the board. The fate of a movement hangs in the balance.