Public won’t get to weigh in on Vallas; W-2 debate comes to a vote

BRIDGEPORT — The city school board will get to weigh in on the job Paul Vallas is doing as interim superintendent but not the public.

By a 3-2-1 vote, the board voted not to have a public hearing in advance of the evaluation. Board members Sauda Baraka, Bobby Simmons and John Bagley voted against the hearing, Thomas Mulligan and Hernan Illingworth voted in favor of it and Maria Pereira abstained.

Baraka said she wanted to hear from people but questioned the scope of the public hearing and the kinds of concerns not related specifically to the superintendent’s job performance that would be expressed.

“I want to be clear about exactly what it is we’ll be getting,” said Baraka, who made the motion to hold no public hearing.

Simmons said he doesn’t recall the public ever being allowed to weigh in before the board evaluated past superintendents and was not supportive of it.

“I don’t see how that is going to effect our evaluation of the superintendent,” he said.

Illingworth said getting public input was important.

The vote came at the conclusion of a meeting where Vallas offered input on the yet-to-be finalized evaluation tool that will be used to assess him. The board voted on January 14 in favor of evaluation that will measure Vallas’s ability to exercise sound fiscal management, personnel management, administrative planning, board relations, community relations and the five-year improvement plan he developed for the district.

Each goal has a number of tasks the superintendent is expected to do such as not permit the district to run a deficit and increase the number of qualified black and Latino teachers in the district.

Vallas told the board that some of the details in the evaluation tool were too specific, naming specific programs that might not be transferable to the next superintendent. He also said some of the goals reach beyond his scope of control. One involved legal fees. Vallas said some legal matters existed before his arrival. Others may result from board decisions over which he has no control. Even so he said he was not contesting the evaluation and left it up to the board.

Baraka said the specifics were meant as examples and to give Vallas an idea of the board’s thinking.

Pereira said specifics could make the form outdated but that really, it should be updated annually.

The superintendent will offer his assessment of the job he has done at a special meeting of the board, planned for 6 p.m., Jan. 30 in Room 305 of City Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

It is still unclear when the board evaluation will take place. Each board member will use a score card system to determine if Vallas exceeded, met, partially met or failed to meet the goals.

Vallas, who has previously led the Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans School district, was hired by the state-appointed school board a year ago, when the district was facing a multi-million deficit. It was to be a temporary situation but Vallas agreed to extend his contract to June 30, 2013 and now appears willing to stay longer.


Earlier in the evening, (when the full school board was in attendance) a proposal to require dozen individuals brought in by Vallas to be retroactively made W-2 employees, failed on a 5-to-4 vote.

Simmons, a certified public accountant, made the motion, saying that state labor laws require that anyone who makes over $600 a year and who reports to the district has to be a W-2 employee. He listed 12 employees who are or have worked for the district in the past year and moved they receive W-2’s for the 2012 calendar year.

Vallas said some of the individuals worked short term assignments and are no longer working in the district. Two are already W-2 employees. Only three _ Chief Administrative Officer Sandra Kase, Finance Director Marlene Siegel and Chief Operating Officer Don Kennedy _ are still being paid as independent contractors rather than employees, according to Vallas.

Vallas said the board can make them W-2 employees but that it would end up costing the district about $25,000 more for each in benefits. Right now, the district only pays for time worked. Baraka and Pereira both suggested that legal fees in defending the board’s position with the state Labor Department might end up costing even more.

Simmons said cost was not the issue; full- or part-time wasn’t the issue. The issue, he said, are state statutes.

The state Labor Department has received complaints about the situation but has yet to render an opinion on the matter. No one seems to know when they will. In two letters to Simmons, however, Bruce Berman, an unemployment compensation assistant in the labor department writes that individuals who provide services who don’t satisfy all three of the following tests — free of direction and control in performing services, performs services outside the usual course of the business, and provides the same service to others — should be considered an employee and not an independent contractor.

Simmons also said he was disturbed that instead of bringing state labor officials into talk to the board,  Board Chairwoman Jacqueline Kelleher held a conference call with the department, excluding other board members. Kelleher said she was responding to a request by the labor department and wanted to find out what the next steps would be.

At that point voices were raised, board members started shouting over one another, calling points of order. The question was finally called and the vote taken.

Linda Lambeck