The Connecticut State Supreme Court today agreed to hear if Paul Vallas should remain in office as Bridgeport’s Superintendent of Schools.
In a ruling issued today, Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers granted a petition to hold an “immediate expedited appeal of the matter” meaning arguments will take place in September.
Whether Vallas will be allowed to remain in office while the appeal is underway remains an open question that may not be decided til sometime in August.
Steve Ecker, an attorney for Vallas said both sides will have 10 days to file motions to the court on a trial court ruling that Vallas leave office immediately pending appeal.
It is unclear the court will take to decide on that issue.
“It could take two to five weeks. In this case, the court may do it quicker,” said Ecker.
In any case, it appears Vallas will be allowed to remain in office at least through July if not longer.
Norman Pattis, who is representing two city residents including Carmen Lopez, a retired superior court judge, said he was not surprised the court took the case.
“I suppose that is inevitable. There’s no doubt we will prevail,” said Pattis.
Meanwhile, the court established a brief schedule, giving each side two weeks to file briefs on the main question.
It is anticipated that oral arguments will take place during the first term of the Supreme Court, the week of September 16-27.
At issue is whether Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis erred when she ruled last month that the independent study course Vallas took this spring at the University of Connecticut was not sufficient to warrant the certification waiver required to hold the job of school superintendent.
A new state law allows such exceptions when the program is approved by the state Board of Education and carries the recommendation of the commissioner of Education. On Monday, the state board passed a resolution asking that the attorney general make the court aware of its desire to keep Vallas in office. Board Chairman Allan Taylor suggested at the meeting that Bellis was taking on the role of the board and commissioner by deciding the course was not sufficient.
Vallas has been with the district since late 2011 in an acting capacity. He has led school districts in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans but lacks the educational credentials to hold the job permanently in Connecticut. He was brought on what was to be a temporary basis to help a district that was severely underfunded and underperforming. The state-appointed school board that hired him was replaced by an elected school board last fall at the order of the Supreme Court. That elected board voted 5-to-4 this year to give Vallas a three-year contract. Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez challenged and won in a decision handed down by Bellis in late June. Two weeks later she ruled that Vallas should leave office immediately.
Pattis on Tuesday said he wondered “how much Bridgeport is paying its lawyers for this sideshow.”
That question is on the agenda for a special meeting of the city school board for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.