Gov on Montanaro’s free tuition: There should be ‘no special deals’

Frank Montanaro Jr.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo said Thursday she is “pleased” a top aide to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has agreed to pay back nearly $50,000 in free tuition he received by claiming a benefit from his old job.

Frank Montanaro Jr. announced Wednesday he will repay the “monetary equivalent” of the 12 semester of free tuition two family members received. Target 12 revealed earlier this month Montanaro, a former lawmaker, spent three years on unpaid leave from his old position at Rhode Island College after taking a $156,000 job appointed by Mattiello. He claims that his status allowed him to collect $49,787 in free tuition over that period.

“There should be no special deals for special people,” Raimondo told reporters. “No special deals for people who are connected or know somebody. And I think he did the right thing by paying the money back.”

Raimondo said she was not involved in the decision and did not discuss the controversy with Montanaro.

Montanaro announced the decision in a statement issued by veteran spokesperson Bill Fischer.

“After consultation with my family and Speaker Mattiello, I believe the best thing to do is return the monetary equivalent of the tuition benefit my children received after I transitioned to my new role at the General Assembly,” Montanaro said. “I will be contacting Rhode Island College tomorrow to make the necessary arrangements.”

A spokesperson for URI said the reimbursement would go to RIC because “in the tuition waiver process, each school invoices the other schools.”

“In this case, URI invoiced RIC for the value of the tuition and received payment,” URI spokeswoman Linda Acciardo wrote in an email. “Therefore, if RIC believes it granted a tuition waiver incorrectly then it would seek reimbursement from the employee not URI.”

Kristy dosReis, a spokesperson at RIC, confirmed Montanaro did reach out to the college on Thursday regarding repayment. Asked in an email how the money will be paid, she said, “we will provide further information regarding payments when arrangements are made.”

Montanaro said he had consulted with an attorney who told him he received the benefit appropriately, but he decided to repay the money because “the public has determined the decision I made on behalf of my family was inappropriate.”

“As an employee of the General Assembly, I want to apologize for the distraction this matter has caused over the past few days,” he said. “My initial response to media inquiries missed the mark and I now realize the negative perceptions that have manifested with the general public.”

Meanwhile, outstanding questions remain, including who at RIC signed the special agreements that allowed Montanaro to execute the controversial deal.

R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell, who has asked state education leaders to examine the arrangement, questioned why Raimondo had not spoken out or taken action regarding the Montanaro affair earlier.

“Where has the governor been for the last two weeks since this story broke?” Bell asked. “I want to see her contact RIC [and] instruct the state police to conduct a full-on investigation.”

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook