As Supremes Ponder School Takeover, Vallas Makes Moves

Paul Vallas
Paul Vallas

Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas isn’t the bashful type when it comes to expressing his opinions or making decisions, be it Philadelphia, Chicago or New Orleans, where he worked before his recruitment to Bridgeport. He has stated running a system of schools is a tall challenge under any circumstances let alone waiting for the Connecticut Supreme Court to issue a decision about the legality of state control of schools. But he isn’t waiting. How many times have we heard, real or imagined, school administrators are handsomely paid and exceedingly comfy. Well Vallas has told many of them they must reapply to keep their jobs.

Vallas has created quite a buzz among school bureaucrats earning six figures a year. Has the state takeover allowed Vallas the freedom to implement administrative reforms? Or could he get to the same place with an elected board? It looks like city voters will decide on an elected versus appointed school board in a charter revision question in November.

The city’s nine-member elected school board has been replaced by a seven-member body appointed by the state. The Supreme Court appears to be on the verge of issuing a decision. Government operatives for Governor Dannel Malloy are scrambling to create a cure in anticipation the Supremes hinge their decision on state language that required school board members to receive training before requesting the state’s takeover assistance. A technical decision by the Supremes, say legal observers, can be trumped by legislative change. Eliminate the training requirement language legislatively and you’ve created the cure.

Legal observers say if the Supremes’ decision is based on constitutional grounds, the legislature is stuck.

In his public comments last week Malloy’s chief legal counsel Andrew McDonald seemed to be speaking indirectly to the Supremes that completely reversing the state takeover decision on a technicality would create educational chaos in the city. If your ruling is based on a technicality here’s the cure.

Would the Supremes include some language in the decision for a legislative fix? Or perhaps grant a stay of proceedings for a specific period to allow for a cure to the training provision in question?

Or will they rule screw that and order a special election for school board members? What a riot that would be.

Meanwhile, Vallas is providing a flavor for what’s to come. Whatever the Supremes decide, sounds like he’s going to be around for a couple of years.



  1. The jury is still out on Vallas’ decision to have administrators re-apply for their jobs. There are administrators who definitely need to go, others who definitely need to stay. Let’s see what happens.
    By the way, a school system that is all charter school would not be a good thing. While charter schools have a place in a school district, there are children who would not necessarily benefit in a charter school.

  2. *** Change is not always welcomed but sometimes needed, especially when it comes to the Bpt school system. So shake that weeping willow Vallas, ’til all those monkeys leave! *** CHANGE ***

  3. There is no doubt change is hard. Vallas is at least trying to make changes. I am not sure ALL administrators have to reapply for their jobs. As I understand it now administrators who are left at 948 Main Street (who are mostly directors and supervisors) will have to reapply for their jobs. These directors and supervisors are also having to justify their support staff and they also will have to reapply. Most of the people left at 948 Main Street will be assigned to school buildings as of the beginning of March.
    The problem I have is where are the principals in this new plan? Do they have to reapply? Many of our current principals were administrators at 948 Main Street at one time or another. Does that make them a good building leader? Maybe, maybe not.
    To have effective change we have to start at the school level. We must ask ourselves do we have the best instructional leaders in charge of our schools. Unfortunately, the answer is No at many of our schools.

  4. “Or will they rule screw that and order a special election for school board members? What a riot that would be.”

    If the Supremes rule against the State and the Bridgeport BOE, the remedy should follow the all-important city charter, that only applies when it matters to Bill, in a rewind that would follow the rules for replacing those who illegally resigned their elected positions. And have an election for those members whose terms have expired.

  5. Hartford, Governor Malloy, State Board of Education, State legislature, State Supreme Court, Bridgeport, Appointed BOE (with out-of-town members including Chairman Trefry), Acting Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas (and team of new professional educators), members of former BOE who did not vote to disband or leave their responsibilities, and seven local members of the Charter Review Commission appointed and charged by Mayor Finch with an educational task, but reporting to the City Council ultimately, and no school budget in place yet for the current year??? … certainly there is a lot going on and to many it is most confusing.

    However there is ongoing change, and change threatens many people most of the time. And change in outcomes for 20,000 youths moving through the Bridgeport system will be built on foundational changes for the current school system. So if your position and professional work in that position have become ill-suited for the task at hand, then maybe concern or fear is reasonable. As for me, I have been waiting for about two weeks for the promised BOE budget for 2011-12 that last year had a multi-million dollar deficit. And promptly the education Chief Financial officer will need to turn around and build on that template the plan for 2012-13 (or perhaps scale it out for up to five years, according to Paul Vallas). So negotiations with the Mayor on City side assumptions of some responsibilities and expenses, and some talking with Hartford about changes (including ECS funding review also underway), and linkages, collaborations, and new grant programs with foundations and other community partners will have a direct effect immediately and in the future. No one has been proud of the results. No one has argued the system of the past 10 or 20 years has been about the youth primarily or the system has been on a successful trend. In sports the management gets changed. And the sports pages deal with lots of the issues. And a school system that has invested in so much plant and equipment with the State paying 80% or more and the City bonding the other 20% or so in additional debt to the tune of hundreds of millions along with annual budget of two hundreds of millions in recent years (also in the 80%/20% range) should be changed so accountability, transparency and openness of process and people at the top to the public is also changed.

    It is in this area, where the Mayor is claiming accountability, the public must challenge his perspective on that subject. Where is this accountability recorded, Mayor Finch??? Or any reader may offer their own idea as to a desired level of accountability, but will it include regular reporting of that currently unfilled position in charge of construction management services where the capital money for the schools is recorded, monitored, and one would think supervised? Where is a record of these public purchases? And is this handled by OPM or by the financial office in the BOE historically? What information in the form of reporting comes to the Education and Social Service or Budget and Appropriations sub-committees of the City Council on a regular basis? And if not, why not? Where are such reports posted on the City web site? We are talking about hundreds of millions of expenditures since Mayor Finch took office when you look at State money paid by your State income taxes and City bond payoffs from local property tax revenues. Accountability??? Who is kidding whom? Are you serious? Time will tell.

  6. Beacon, you and others on this blog have made some excellent points regarding the lucrative school construction projects. You or the CT Post needs to FOI how much O & G has made in the last 7 years (maybe longer) as the managers of the school construction projects. Then look at the campaign contributions from O & G employees and family members to Fabrizi and Finch. Follow the money.

  7. Fixer: You are right on the money!!! How did O & G get all the new contracts for school construction?
    How did it come to pass O & G has an office in city hall annex? It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what is happening.

  8. Mr. Vallas,
    Don’t forget to take a look at the ‘CONSULTANTS’ who were hired by the BOE upon their retirement. I am appalled these retiree consultants are receiving hundreds of dollars a day while collecting a generous retirement check to boot. That shows how the current administration thumbs their noses at those of us who have to amend our lifestyles in order to pay the freight. Nearly all of these so-called consultants who are hired are well connected sycophants who are hired into positions for which they have absolutely no experience and are unable to accomplish any objectives that role may carry. I am reminded that a few years ago the school’s athletic director retired and came to work the next day as the Director of Buildings and Maintenance. I believe his name is Alan something or other. His consultant fee was very high. He had no clue how to do the consulting job.

    Mr. Vallas, I implore you to carefully examine the vendors who provide food services to the BOE. The peripheral influences may prove to be interesting.

  9. If Vallas achieves no significant transparency change soon, then state seizure of Bridgeport BOE will prove useless. The accusations of some former BOE members being “dysfunctional” was really just a way of not responding to their inquiry on accountability and wasteful spending. Instead of saying, okay great, Ramos had 3 cell phones and didn’t even know it and now let’s look elsewhere for other waste we don’t know about, they started name-calling, shut down the whole BOE with state seizure so fast laws were broken!

    Friday CT Post article “Judging from their comments and line of questioning during the hearing, the Supreme Court justices appeared skeptical that the takeover law had been followed.”
    Read more: www

    And besides, should Congress be taken over by the World Bank due to being dysfunctional? By the way, is there an internal audit group for the BOE and also the general city budget?

  10. *** It’s been years of waiting for some type of major changes in the Bpt school system yet now that it “could be here” many of those who supported education are crying foul! The one step forward, two steps back way of doing things has gotten city kids nowhere. Time to welcome change and help make it work, no? *** TEAM CHANGE ***

  11. You guys wanted someone to do something about the educational system. It’s been done.

    This entire enterprise is a classic Bridgeport political play of never letting quaint legalities get in the way of doing something you want to do, and maybe think has to be done.

    I have to admit I kind of admire this: The mayor–or whoever is the thinker behind this–suckered the political party, most of the general community, the business community, the governor, many on this blog, et cetera, into going along with a feel-good activity of whacking the Board of Ed with little regard for the consequences. One fine day everyone woke up and realized maybe Bridgeport wasn’t following the rules.

    It was a little late then; it’s way late now. It is not a question of gathering horses. There is no barn to put horses in.

    It doesn’t matter what the state Supreme Court does. I suppose an act from the Legislature would be a fine gesture. But everything has been off the books for months.

    If the state Supreme Court rules the mayor’s move illegal, what is the remedy? Do we throw a testimonial for Mayor Finch for blowing the system up? Or tell the mayor he was naughty, tsk-tsk?

  12. Tomorrow on Bridgeport Now, special guests: the alt slate DTC candidates for 131st District discuss elections on Mar 6. But first we will show the GE Plant since being demolished, then yesterday’s Testo’s Restaurant zoning protest with state rep Jack making comment.

  13. 1. School Board Budget for this year is behind the anticipated schedule indicated by the CFO? Any known reason for the delay? What is their drop-dead date?
    2. Remember the Columbus School delay last September? Remember the kids couldn’t get back to their remediated classrooms after year(s) away? PCBs pointed to in September, are still in one area, and the kids have been scattered to five locations in the City with the earliest return sometime in April? Who is in charge? Is it CMS? What’s the official word? Just imagine the hoops and hurdles for the administrators of this school for this year?
    3. Bridgeport Now: Last known internal auditor on the City side left local government around five years ago I have been told. What went on in the Education Department is unknown to me. Did they have an internal audit function ever? I doubt it, but would love to be proven wrong.
    What has bothered me is the broad claim in recent annual budget documents the City, as part of internal control, has an internal audit staff. It is not true.
    (However, in a nearby AAA-rated community the BOE has all payables done by the City/town departments and these are subject to the internal and external auditing functions. Just informed in their recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report the Board of Education received a clean bill of health, and therefore no comment in the Management Letter from the auditor.)

    Over in Bridgeport, we are still (with FOI requests) trying to see Management Letters going back several years as well as City responses to them. Assuming Blum Shapiro visited the Bridgeport Education Department from September to December, it might be most instructive to see what their comments have been over the years. Just about the numbers, of course, and not a forensic or management audit, just the numbers, but still probably revealing. Time will tell.

  14. *** The Bpt school system has always been the first to ask for more money and cry foul if they don’t get what they want. However when it comes to getting full disclosure on how they have spent their money during the past budget year, the info comes in at about 50% before the budget is passed and the remainder after July 1st the beginning of the fiscal year; maybe! No such thing as a transparent operational or internal audit for the BOE. Just as many funded “ghost filled” line item positions on the BOE as there are on the city side. *** TIME TO CLEAN HOUSE ***

  15. OIB readers,
    Have you looked at a City monthly financial report recently? (Yes, Virginia, the Charter calls for reports each month, and they have been forthcoming that way for the first six months. Surprise, it’s Bridgeport!)
    Now the material question is: how does this report format allow a Council rep to be a meaningful fiscal ‘watchdog’ looking not only for variances in the current year between what was approved and what is being spent, but also comparing this year to the previous year actual? The answer is, it doesn’t. But it could, because the Charter provides language for the Council to request the type of report they desire.

    Finally, we should all be looking for the June 30 fiscal year-end report. This is the ghost report OPM tells us is never provided for the last 20 years. And I ask, why not? Doesn’t the external auditor look for the fiscal year accounts to be completed, or closed, or whatever the correct accounting term is, before they do their audit? And while it is common for there to be changes, or adjustments after the close that could be explained if questioned, what is the reason for City Council to never have the ability to understand why a line item budgeted at $100,000, for instance, to show no expenditure for 11 months, and with no report for the final month, not know where the money really was spent? And since the monthly report the Council gets currently never shows the monthly actual for the previous year, the Council is not only blind, but deaf and dumb to what is actually happening in the fiscal overview process.

    Does that comfort you? Does the Council have the funding in their legislative budget to get technical assistance? Yes, for years!!! Are they empowered by the Charter? You bet they are! Look it up. So what is holding them back from ‘toothless irrelevance?’ Good question. Ask your Council person. See what the answer is. Let’s discuss on OIB if this is the only place we can dialogue in Bridgeport. Just consider: if the Board of Education budget gets opened up in the way Interim Superintendent Paul Vallas suggests, with info showing how, when, for what and where City, State and other funds are spent, what type of contrast with current City-side financial revelation will be apparent??? Time will tell.

  16. If the school budget gets opened up as Mr. Vallas states it will then the citizens of Bridgeport will be given an accurate financial picture of spending in the BOE.
    Bridgeport has not had such an honest review since the Financial Review board was in Bridgeport. God only knows we have not had such an honest review since Sherwood and then Sherwood & Norton have been in charge of finances. There may be hope yet.


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