BRIDGEPORT – The city school board agreed to form a subcommittee to start working on the groundwork for superintendent search even as it works to evaluate the superintendent it has now.
The 5-4 vote — with Chairman Jacqueline Kelleher siding with board members Bobby Simmons, Sauda Baraka, Maria Pereira and John Bagley — came after the board voted unanimously to table an agenda item to extend Interim School Superintendent Paul Vallas’ contract.
The board is still in the process of evaluating Vallas and he is scheduled to make a presentation to the board on Wednesday on his accomplishments.
Board member Hernan Illingworth called it irresponsible to put the extension on the agenda when the board hasn’t finished the evaluation.
“We laid out a process. Let’s honor the process,” he said, still disappointed that the board decided a week earlier not to let the public weigh in on the evaluation.
Pereira wanted to know how the contract extension even got on the agenda.
Kelleher said two board members – she didn’t name them — requested it be put on the agenda. She also said the board originally said it wanted to handle the item in January.
Kelleher said she spoke with both Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his chief of staff Adam Goldfarb to clarify a state law passed in June 2012 that gives the commissioner a say in the selection of the district’s next superintendent. In exchange for a $3.5 million loan to balance the district’s cash-starved 2011-12 budget, the new law requires the board to win approval of its three superintendent finalists from the commissioner and get his feedback. The board then gets to pick from among the three approved finalists.
Kelleher, however, said Pryor said the board could extend Vallas contract without going through the process. She said the commissioner granted Vallas special certification to serve as superintendent through 2013.
Kelleher was promised a letter from the state Board of Education to that effect by the end of the week.
Pereira said that is not the way the special act reads and cautioned against taking advise from the state Department of Education.
“The law is clear. The last time we tried that we ended up in Supreme Court,” said Pereira. She favored setting up a subcommittee to start the process, to have it in place.
It is expected that hiring a search firm for a new superintendent, if the board does, could cost as much as $58,000.
“My sense is we need a subcommittee,” said Kelleher.
Meanwhile, members of the audience seemed clearly divided into two camps over the issue.
Like Pereira, Carmen Lopez reminded the board that not all legal opinions they get are correct. The one that led to the state takeover of the board was ultimately overturned.
Lopez told the board said they should be considering the termination of Vallas’ contract, not an extension. She also said in her reading of state law, the waiver Vallas receives can’t extend past a year and requires him to get special training. “I don’t know that Mr. Vallas has been attending any training,” she said.
Others said they want Vallas to stay.
Ondrea Moore, the district PAC leader, said she has high regards for Vallas and said signs in the audience calling for his removal hurt.
Clyde Nicholson said in his opinion, Vallas was robbing the district.
Gerry Claytor told the board even though Vallas inherited a mess, he has given her hope.
Jehan Raheem said the district needed a superintendent from Connecticut, not Chicago, Philadelphia or New Orleans, three other districts where Vallas served before he was recruited by the state appointed school board in December 2011.
Parent Jessica Martinez said nothing matters to her but the education of her third grade daughter and she applauds what she has seen since Vallas arrived. She said he responded when Marin school needed an extra teachers aid and is getting security cameras repaired.
“You can’t expect miracles in six months,” she said, adding she doesn’t care how much Vallas makes.