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Evidence of alleged crimes with Bridgeport’s School Budget going to State Auditors and Attorney General

by Jon Pelto from Wait, What

Readers of Wait, What? are well aware that over the past year this blog’s investigative work has turned up evidence of what appear to be serious violations of law by Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, the Bridgeport Board of Education and the City of Bridgeport.

In direct violation of Connecticut and Bridgeport laws, Paul Vallas signed more than a dozen no-bid contracts, many of them going to individuals who worked for his private consulting company or to companies that he has worked with in the past. The cost of these contracts obligated the taxpayers of Bridgeport and Connecticut to more than $12 million in expenditures.

In at least one case, a no-bid hundred thousand dollar contract with a company Vallas has a close relationship was signed and payments made to utilize vital special education software starting July 1, 2012. That software remains unused and Bridgeport teachers continue to use the old software the city was using. Despite this fact, Vallas’ office responded to a recent Freedom of Information request by saying that no contract extension existed with the old company.

In addition to the bidding and contracting violations, Superintendent Vallas and the Bridgeport Board of Education’s failed to properly adopt a school budget, both last year and again this year, meaning that Vallas and his administration lacked the legal authority to transfer and spend tens of millions of dollars in federal, state and local funds.

When these issues were raised publicly, neither the Bridgeport Board of Education nor Bridgeport Mayor Finch took the necessary steps to investigate and act on these allegations.

In addition, Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and the State Department of Education failed to fulfill their statutory duties to investigate and act on these issues.

Connecticut law is very clear on this matter. Since state dollars are used to fund Bridgeport’s schools, the superintendent and Board of Education must meet the legal requirements of the Connecticut State Statutes.

The evidence revealing the potentially illegal activities includes Bridgeport Board of Education memos and official documents, meeting agenda and minutes, emails between public officials and testimony from witnesses who will need whistleblower protections.

Considering officials from Bridgeport and the State Department of Education have been unwilling to act, the job no rests with other state agencies and officials.

It is well understood that according to state statute, “anyone who knows of corruption, unethical practices, state law or regulation violations, mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority…may send information regarding it to the state auditors…”

“The auditors must review the matter and report their findings and recommendations to the attorney general, who must conduct any investigation he deems proper. The auditors must assist with the investigation. After the investigation, the attorney general must, when necessary, report his findings to the governor. If the matter involves a crime, he must report it to the chief state’s attorney.”

We can be sure that if these violations were taking place in any other Connecticut community, local and state officials would take immediate action to investigate and hold officials accountable for their actions. In fact, if any superintendent of schools or any public official illegally executed contracts or spent funds without the authority to do so, the response would be swift and thorough.

But for reasons that remain unclear, the Finch and Malloy administrations have apparently turned a blind eye to these alleged violations of law.

Their inaction has created a situation where advocates for public education and the students, parents and taxpayers of Bridgeport and Connecticut must look elsewhere if they want to see justice served.

For that reason, and as proscribed by Connecticut’s whistleblower laws, the materials about the purported illegal activities that have been collected over the past year will be turned over to the State Auditors for their review and action.