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Bridgeport Board of Education special meeting about Vallas

by Jon Pelto from Wait, What

Tomorrow night, January 22, 2013, the Bridgeport Board of Education will hold a special meeting. The agenda has two items; (1) Superintendent mid-year evaluation and (2) Contract extension discussion. The Board will probably attempt to go into executive session on both matters.

The contract extension item was on the agenda for the last board of education meeting, but Vallas – for the second time in a row – stormed out of a board of education meeting. This time he took the entire senior staff with him, leaving the board with no executive staff to answer vital questions about other items on the agenda.

If a superintendent of schools in any other Connecticut town acted in such an unprofessional way they’d be reprimanded or put on leave. Furthermore, senior staff, each of whom collect more than $100,000 a public funds each year, would never leave an ongoing board meet.

But apparently the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to Paul Vallas. When you are that self-important, insubordination and walking out on your employer is not considered inappropriate behavior.

When Paul Vallas arrived in Bridgeport in 2011, the Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying, “My plan is to be done within a year, and to have the budget balanced, to have the academic plan embraced and supported, and to have the next generation of leaders ready to drive the system forward.”

But his real plans became clear all too soon.

While claiming to reduce central office expenses, one of his first actions was to sign a series of no-bid contracts to retain the services of a number of his former employees and colleagues. The move committed Bridgeport and Connecticut taxpayers to more than $1 million a year in extra salaries.

Then, despite collecting $229,000 a year from Bridgeport’s schools, Vallas’ private consulting company signed a $1 million contract with the State of Illinois and an $18 million contract with the City of Indianapolis.

Since Vallas’ office stopped publishing his schedule, residents and observers can’t even find out how much time Bridgeport’s part-time superintendent is spending away from his Bridgeport duties.

And now Vallas wants another contract extension?

Has the Board of Education developed any process to consider whether an extension is even appropriate? No.

Has the Board of Education collected input from parents, administrators, teachers, staff, students or taxpayer about whether Vallas should be allowed to stay or whether new leadership for Bridgeport’s schools is needed? No.

Has the Board asked for any explanation about how Vallas divides his time between his Bridgeport work and his lucrative private consulting? No.

Has the Board investigated Vallas’ inappropriate, and some would even say illegal, use of no-bid contracts? No.

When Paul Vallas was hired, his lack of state certification and appropriate credentials prohibited him from staying on the job for more than one year. Governor Malloy’s “education reform” law quietly changed that statute giving Malloy’s Commission of Education the power to waive Connecticut law and allow Vallas to stay on – if requested by the local board of education.

The duty to act appropriately rests not only with Bridgeport’s Board of Education but it also rests with Connecticut’s elected officials.

If the Governor and his Commissioner of Education were truly serious about transparency and ethical behavior, they’d be demanding that Bridgeport’s Board of Education investigate and determine the answers to serious issues that cloud Vallas’ request to stay on as Bridgeport’s Superintendent of Schools.

There is still time for policymakers to do the right thing.

The question is – will they do it?