Mattiello: Mistake lies with RIC not former lawmaker who took $50K tuition perk

Frank Montanaro Jr.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — While he says the state’s free tuition benefit needs to be reviewed, Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello says he doesn’t fault a former lawmaker turned State House staffer for taking advantage of it.

Target 12 first reported earlier this month that former state Rep. Frank Montanaro Jr. spent three years on leave from his old position at Rhode Island College despite taking a six-figure State House job appointed by Mattiello. It’s a move that allowed him to collect nearly $50,000 in free tuition over that time period. Montanaro said he was entitled to the benefit under his union contract.

Mattiello talked about the Target 12 Investigation during a radio interview on The Tara Granahan Show on 630 WPRO Friday.

He said the benefit Montanaro collected did not come at a cost to the taxpayer.

“The teachers, the professors are already there. The classrooms are already set up,” Mattiello said.

However, he did say changes need to be made to the system.

Timeline: A history of political scandals in Rhode Island »

“I would be the first to say the benefit should not have been offered. But, once you offer it, I expect an employee to take it,” Mattiello said. “The mistake is on the college. It is not on the individual who took the benefit. I expect those folks to take a comprehensive look at it and not give it out so freely.”

In wake of Target 12’s investigation, Rhode Island College President Frank D. Sanchez released a statement Friday which said the school is reviewing its free tuition policy.

Recent news coverage concerning the administration of Rhode Island College’s leave and tuition waiver policies reaffirm the college’s ongoing efforts to assess our policies and procedures. I am working closely with Acting Commissioner of Postsecondary Education Brenda Dann-Messier to ensure, through appropriate processes, that all employee benefit programs are consistent with Council on Postsecondary Education policies and state regulations. Rhode Island College’s commitment to institutional effectiveness on behalf of both our students and taxpayers is reflected in our current strategic action plan and will drive our proactive approach to evaluating all of our policies and procedures.” — Frank D. Sanchez, Rhode Island College president