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NEW: Elorza Calls for Changes to School Busing Policy

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Jorge Elorza, Democratic candidate for Mayor, issued a statement today calling for the city and state to help make it easier for Providence students to get to school using public transportation.

Elorza served as an associate justice of the Providence Housing Court from 2010 to 2013 and, since 2005, has been a tenured Professor of Law at Roger Williams University.

Elorza is chiefly concerned with students who are forced to walk long distances to school because they are technically too close to be picked up by school buses. His statement comes during a school year where Providence public schools have already come under fire from parents concerned with late bus arrivals and a lack of supervision.

Elorza's Proposals

Elorza's statement reads as follows:

Our city’s public high school students are not eligible for bus passes unless they live more than three miles from school. Students that fall into the far end of that range could be walking for as long as 45 minutes to an hour just to make it to their first period classes.

As a community, we have to do everything in our power to make sure our students are in their classrooms and learning. Our students face too many challenges for us to be creating additional institutional barriers for them.
Denying students who live between 2-3 miles away from school bus passes impacts learning, impacts health, and impacts safety, and our low-income communities are disproportionately affected.

When I was a child growing up on Cranston Street, my Mother acted as the school bus for many kids in the neighborhood. Although we were lucky to have her there to bring us to school, not every student is as lucky as we were.

Students and parents who recognize that this is an issue of fundamental fairness have been voicing their concerns and advocating to allow more students access to monthly bus passes since as early as 2009 in some cases.

Community organizations such as Youth In Action, Young Voices, DARE, Providence Student Union (PSU), and other members of the Youth 4 Change Alliance have worked tirelessly to change these policies. As a candidate for Mayor, I stand with each of those individuals and organizations today.

Chronic absenteeism is a big problem in our city, and it’s a problem exacerbated by the fact that we ask our students to walk for so long, at such an early hour, often in frigid weather. When we compare Providence to other school districts, Providence schools show a uniquely strong correlation between cold weather and absenteeism. For example, Providence's January-February daily absent percentage is more than double the percentage in May, whereas the disparity between January-February and May absences for schools in other cities is significantly less.

As Mayor, I will make bridging this gap a priority. Education was my path out of poverty. I would be nowhere today without the education I received and without all of the people I had advocating for me. Today, I want to advocate for our students. Today, I want to ensure that every Providence public high school student has the same opportunity to succeed that I did.

How can we fix this problem?

First, we need to dramatically decrease the minimum distance for students to receive bus passes. With a total city budget of $662 million, we must make it a priority to find the $1.35 million to fund passes for the 2,100 students who live between 2 and 3 miles from school. $1.35 million is only 0.2% of the total budget. This is a matter of priorities, not cash.

Providence should work with Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA) for a discount on bus passes for Providence public high school students. Reducing the cost from its current level of $62 per month will offset a portion of the additional $1.35 million. RISD and Brown University, which issue passes to their students and faculty, have negotiated with RIPTA so that they pay $1.15 per RIPTA ride as long as the number of rides exceeds 500,000 annually. My plan will add roughly 700,000 rides to the current
total. If they can do it, so can we.

Second, we need to make our streets safer and more walking-friendly for those students remaining within 0-2 miles from their schools. This means everything from making sure that our signage and sidewalks are appropriate to making sure our drivers have the safety of our children at the forefront of their minds.

These solutions are all attainable, but they will only be implemented if we all work together to prioritize them, both by way of our words and our actions. Join me and walk with students from the Providence Student Union on February 24 at 6:30 am to help bring attention to this issue.

I am running for Mayor because our children should not have to walk an hour in the cold just to get to school and because I know an investment in education is an investment in health, safety, and happiness.

I believe we are One Providence and that when part of our community suffers, we all suffer, and we all have shared responsibility for that suffering.

To learn more about the importance of transportation for students, or to tell me what #OneProvidence means to you, visit facebook.com/JorgeElorzaForMayor and connect with me on Twitter at @ElorzaForMayor."


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Taveras Has to Answer When Running for Gov of RI

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#10 Fundraising

Can Taveras Keep Up with the Big Boys and Girls in Fundraising?

In America today, one issue that is a factor in nearly every election is fundraising. To date, Taveras has yet to demonstrate any consistent ability to keep up with the leading fundraisers in RI.

Taveras will have to compete with General Treasuer Gina Raimondo, who has $2 plus million on hand and a likely run from Clay Pell (grandson of US Senator Claiborne Pell and whose wife is Olympic skater Michelle Kwan).

Raimondo is on pace to raise $5m and Taveras presently has just $692,000 on hand and would be on pace to raise less than $2 mliion. 

Pell's family has access to nearly limitless dollars - back in the 1990's Pell's grandfather was ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

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#9 Curse

Can Taveras Break the Providence Mayor's Curse?

For more than 60 years, no Providence Mayor has been successful running for Governor of Rhode Island. You have to go back to the 1950 election when Dennis Roberts was elected Governor.

Since Roberts, a number of Providence Mayors have taken their shot at running for Governor and each has failed mightily.

Most notably, Buddy Cianci's run against J. Joseph Garrahy - Cianci got less than 30% of the statewide vote.

Joe Paolino was expected to win the Democratic primary in 1990, but was beaten badly by Bruce Sundlun and then Warwick Mayor Frank Flaherty.

Sundlun went on to win the general election and Flaherty was later named to the state Supreme Court.

Taveras will have to break a very long curse.

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#8 Hire or Fire

Can Teachers Trust Taveras - and Will Voters Trust His Relationship with the Teachers Unions?

In the midst of the city's political meltdown, Taveras just into his first few months in office fired all the teachers in Providence.

Taveras received strong public support, but within months he capitulated to pressure from the teachers' unions.

Three years later, he is emerging as the candidate of the teachers' union leadership. Will teachers trust him in a statewide race and will voters trust him if he is perceived as too close to union bosses?

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#7 Hispanics

Will Hispanics Vote as a Block in the Primary for Taveras? Are They Influential Enough in the General?

Conventional wisdom is that Angel Taveras will get a big boost from the Hispanic voting block in the primary, but more recently Council members Luis Aponte, Danian Sanchez and Sabina Matos have all openly battled with the mayor on his tax increases and efforts to close pools in low income wards around the city.

While Taveras can rebound and the impact may be large in the primary, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic in the general election is just 7% according to Pew Research:

  • Rhode Island’s population is 12% Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic population share nationally.
  • There are 54,000 Hispanic eligible voters in Rhode Island—which ranks 35th in Hispanic eligible voter population nationally. California ranks first with 5.9 million.
  • Some 7% of Rhode Island eligible voters are Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic eligible voter population share nationally. New Mexico ranks first with 39%.
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#6 Temperament

Can Taveras Handle the Campaign Pressure and the Office Pressure of Governor?

Taveras had no experience as a chief executive in business or government before taking office in 2011 in Providence. He has increasingly gotten into some very non-productive scrapes.

In 2012, his law office delivered a document to GoLocalProv as part of a FOIA request and those documents included the social security number of every retiree of the City. Instead of taking responsibility he sent his lawyers to court to try to block GoLocal from writing about the mishandling of social security numbers. The judge ruled against Taveras.

In 2013, Taveras has tried to demolish a commuity swimming pool in South Providence because, according to Councilman Danian Sanchez, Sanchez would not vote for Taveras' tax increase.

Will Taveras be able to prove to voters he has the right stuff?

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#5 Base outside Prov

Can Angel Taveras Build a Political Base Outside of Providence?

While Taveras has a strong political base in Providence, it is unclear if he can build a strong political network in critical Democratic strongholds like Woonsocket, Pawtucket, East Providence, Johnston and North Providence.

It is well known that both Democratic Mayors in North Providence and Johnston have had a strained relationship with Taveras.

This strain has played out over critical matters like mutual emergency aid and in 2012, North Providence, Johnston and East Providence all cancelled emergency aid compacts with Providence.

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#4 Women Voters

Can Taveras Compete for Women Voters?

When Taveras ran for Mayor he won the critical block of East Side Democratic women. Part of his success with this critical block of voters was the support he enjoyed from Democratic power Myrth York. 

The two-time Democratic nominee for Governor went all in for Taveras in 2010, but she no longer is active in the inner circle and reportedly would have supported Governor Lincoln Chafee in the primary.

Taveras will need to compete with Raimondo who has already signed former EMILY's list bigwig Kate Coyne-McCoy.

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#3 Star Power

Can Taveras Keep Up with Clay Pell's Star Power?

In 2010, Taveras ran under the motto of "from Head Start to Harvard."  His claim on the American dream proved a successful juxtaposition to two Democrats who had the same political base - Federal Hill (Steven Costantino and John Lombardi).

Now, Taveras may face the fresh-faced Clay Pell. His bio exceeds Taveras as he can claim the legacy of his grandfather's work and hit the circuit with his superstar wife, Olympian Michelle Kwan.

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#2 Issues and Vision

Can Angel Taveras Articulate a Vision for Rhode Island?

Taveras earned good scores for managing the City of Providence's financial crises, but never seemed to develop major policies for economic development, schools, parking, crime, reducing the cost of government or improving the efficiency.
The Superman building's closure happened on his watch, technology company Dassault Systèmes is moving out of Providence, and no major employers were recruited into the city other than the scrap yard on Allens Avenue.
Taveras will need to define a forward looking vision for Rhode Island.
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#1 Crime and Education

Can Taveras Explain His Record on Crime and Education?

The biggest problem for Taveras is his record in Providence.
Most people care about the basics - their jobs, education for their children, how safe their neighborhood is.  These vary questions could be Taveras' Achilles' heel.
According to GoLocal's study of the FBI crime data, Providence is ranked #2 for violent crime per capita in Rhode Island.
The condition of Providence's schools may be worse. Of the 24 schools ranked as poor (de facto failing) in Rhode Island by the Department of Education, 6 of them were Providence Schools and in the rankings of the best high schools in the state, most of Providence's schools consistently litter the bottom of the rankings.
Taveras lead the city to win the $5 million Bloomberg award. But in a Governor's race one of Taveras' opponents is sure to ask, "Mr. Mayor, are you going to bring the same policies you used on crime and education in Providence to the rest of the state?"

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