Documents: Montanaro was only RIC employee who got special OK for free tuition

Frank Montanaro Jr.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Former state Rep. Frank Montanaro Jr. is the only Rhode Island College employee in the last 10 years who got special permission to receive free tuition while on leave from the school, according to records obtained by Target 12.

Target 12 revealed in June that Montanaro spent three years on unpaid leave from his old position at RIC after taking a $156,000 State House job appointed by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and that he used his status to collect $49,787 in free tuition over that period. He eventually said he would repay the money. The state police have investigated the arrangement, and the case is now before the attorney general.

Montanaro and Mattiello have repeatedly defended the tuition perk, saying Montanaro was entitled to the benefit under his union contract and insisting he did not get special treatment because of his influence in the General Assembly.

“It’s a benefit that is afforded to everybody under the PSA [contract], that if they are on leave-to-protect status that is part of their benefit package,” Montanaro told Target 12 in June, referring to his union, PSA Local 3302. He added, “It was a benefit afforded to me as a Rhode Island College employee as well as other employees in the higher ed system, and it’s a benefit that was afforded just like anyone else.”

But documents obtained by Target 12 show Montanaro was in fact the only member of the PSA union who received free tuition while on leave in the past decade, and that he obtained it thanks to a special “administrative authorization” by top college officials. RIC and Montanaro refuse to release the documents showing how the arrangement was structured and who approved it, though they have acknowledged former RIC President Nancy Carriuolo was involved and that the union reached “a negotiated settlement” with RIC over the matter in 2016.

Two other RIC employees, a housekeeper and a faculty member, also received free tuition while on leave, but college spokeswoman Kristy dosReis said that unlike Montanaro, they qualified for it automatically based on policy at the time. Under that policy, “tuition waivers were granted for the semester immediately following the commencement of leave and the semester after that,” she said.

In addition, Montanaro received far more tuition waivers while on leave, 12 in total, than they did – only two and one, respectively.

A separate list provided by the college shows Montanaro is one of roughly 170 RIC employees who in the last 10 years have either taken an unpaid leave of absence or used leave-to-protect status, a personnel policy in state government that lets an employee take a new job but retain the right to return to his old job if the new one isn’t a good fit.

While Montanaro has pledged to repay RIC for the roughly $50,000 in free tuition he received, he has not yet finalized a payment agreement with the college.

“Mr. Montanaro’s attorney has met with RIC legal counsel and finance staff to ascertain the dollar value of the waivers and inquire as to the logistics of repayment,” dosReis said Wednesday. “RIC provided information and is waiting to hear back from Mr. Montanaro’s counsel.”

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

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