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Paul Vallas signs $18 million deal with Indianapolis School System

by Jon Pelto from Wait, What

With the first day of school only weeks away; new administrators throughout the school system, including three brand new principals at Bridgeport’s three main high schools, and lots and lots of unfinished business, Paul Vallas and “The Vallas Turnaround System” have signed a three-year, $6 million dollar a year, deal with the Indianapolis School System.

The pattern is becoming all too familiar.

First came the state’s illegal attempt to take over the Bridgeport School System.

Instead of stepping back and developing an honest and fair process for moving forward, state and Bridgeport officials pushed forward, as the saying goes, like a herd of bulls in a china shop.

And that process introduced Connecticut to Paul Vallas and his $229,000 a year job to “turnaround” Bridgeport’s schools.

Then Vallas pushed through more than a dozen no-bid contracts, totaling about a million dollars a year, to bring in his team, including a number of people who actually worked for his private consulting company, “The Vallas Group.” (That doesn’t even count the $12 million in no-bid contracts for various computer software some of which was supposed to be ready but isn’t).

Then came word that The Vallas Group had signed a three-year; $1 million contract to help low-performing schools in his home state of Illinois.

Then came the additional news that The Vallas Group and Cambium Learning Group, a national, for profit company, were joining forces to market the “Vallas Turnaround System” to states, cities and schools around the country.

And now we learn that on July 24, 2012, the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners voted to enter into a contract with Paul Vallas and VOYAGER Learning, (a subsidiary of Cambium Education, Inc.), to turnaround fifteen Indianapolis schools. The price tag of which is $6 million a year for three years, the total amount not to exceed $18.1 million.

Each chapter was met with the same answer. No problem, according to Vallas and his supporters. He works very hard, more than 10 hours a day, even on weekends. That or, he is just the “supervisor” for other projects, or news, that his team takes care of the details, he only works on the big picture.

But the final answer was always the same, the students and taxpayers of Bridgeport will get his undivided attention.

Imagine Governor Malloy discovering that his Commissioner of Education or Commissioner of Economic Development or even his chief of staff took on a private consulting project that was 4 times their salary and then another one that was 18 times that amount.

Would Mayor Bill Finch be fine with his Chief of Police or Fire Chief or Chief of Staff taking on massive consulting jobs in other states while claiming to be fulfilling their legal and moral responsibility to the people of Bridgeport?

It’s unclear if Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education even knew that the Vallas operation was trying to pick up an $18 million project when they voted to extend Vallas’ contract earlier this summer.

It’s also not known when Governor Malloy, Mayor Finch, Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor or the State Board of Education were told that while Vallas collected his $229,000 Connecticut salary, his team and corporate partners were agreeing to at least two projects totally nearly $20 million.

But just last Thursday the members of the State Board of Education showered Vallas with complements. One board member, Charles Jaskiewicz, told Vallas and Robert Trefry, the chairman of the illegal Bridgeport Board of Education, to “keep up the good work.”

And it is certainly not clear which would be worse. That Malloy, Finch, Pryor, Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education and the State Board of Education knew that Vallas was engaged in these other activities and chose not to say or do anything or that they didn’t know.

What is clear is that plenty of others knew. In fact, in their 2nd Quarter stockholder earnings conference call on August 8, 2012, Cambium Learning Group, Inc. (you can find them on the Nasdaq at “ABCD”), reported that while net revenues for Voyager Learning were down 33% over the year before, things were looking up.

According to their official corporate filings, the company told their stockholders and Wall Street analysts that “in June, the Company announced an exclusive partnership with The Vallas Group, Inc. to bring nationally known education reform leader Paul Vallas’ unique school improvement model to struggling schools across the nation.”

And then they added that, “during the first half of 2012, the Company was selected as the school turnaround provider for 15 schools in Indianapolis, IN…”

Meanwhile, in stark contrast to Vallas’ assurances that none of these contracts will diminish his ability to lead Bridgeport’s schools, there remain numerous questions about the impact Vallas’ actions, or lack thereof, will have on Bridgeport’s school children, Bridgeport’s schools and the taxpayers of Connecticut and Bridgeport.

Tonight, Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education is meeting. It will be interesting to see if the Malloy Administration or the Finch Administration or the Board itself begins to explain how this incredible situation was allowed to develop.

Categories: General