Is Paul Vallas The Goods?

Paul Vallas
Paul Vallas

Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas seems to be everywhere these days presenting school reforms, sharing his vision for education, meeting with parents, students, teachers and business interests. More than 200 community stakeholders attended a presentation Thursday at Central High School. Vallas, early on at least, is showing he knows the value of communications. Plenty of professional educators are smart, but don’t know how to leverage community outreach to sell reforms. Maybe that’s because Vallas isn’t a professional educator.

Vallas managed to steer through the thorny education and political interests in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans before Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor recruited him for the Bridgeport job. You come out of those cities whole and you have a darn good chance of navigating the prickly world of Bridgeport politics. When it comes to urban politics we’re not talking about a tenderfoot here. Vallas is a guy who nearly became governor of Illinois in 2001, narrowly losing a Democratic primary to Rod Blagojevich who went on to become governor and then was kicked out of office for trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat. As Vallas was working over his first proposed school budget and preparing to address folks at Central High School, Blago, in fact, was reporting to a joint in Colorado for the start of his 14-year sentence.

Vallas likes to come in, fix stuff and then move on. He’ll probably be part of the city scenery for at least a couple of years, working with either an appointed or elected school board depending on what voters decide in November regarding a charter revision question. Meanwhile we await to hear from the Connecticut Supreme Court that ruled the state’s takeover of city schools illegal but didn’t seem to think omitting a date for a special election would cause legal chaos. Judges, lawyers; aargh!

Mayor Bill Finch is putting his prestige on the line to persuade city voters to approve a mayoral-appointed school board. And judging by the public opinion of parents so far it may very well be that parents could become Finch’s strongest asset in selling an appointed body.

Don’t be surprised if parents are recruited to actively work the phone lines and urge voters on election day to approve an appointed board. Opposition forces, supportive of an elected body, will proclaim, “Just vote no.”

Either way Vallas seems like he can get stuff done.



  1. December, 2007. Mayor Finch enters office with a lengthy list of objectives that continue to be posted on the bulletin board at the City Clerk’s office. His first two objectives?

    Lowering property taxes and working for school improvement.

    How would you rank his success or ACCOUNTABILITY on these two issues? He “flatlined” might be an accurate answer from those riding a galloping horse. Taxes for most people did not rise greatly and that was purposeful on the Mayor’s part in his first term. How this was done is a story for another column. As to education he flatlined there too which leads one to ask how was that improving the quality of the educational experience for young folks?

    But this column is about Vallas, not the Mayor, right? I have heard him address groups four times. He knows the theory, but more importantly he knows how to lead, to quickly assess, to move, to work with a professional team and take initiative. As I have said before, we are watching the educational likes of Peyton Manning, a man who does not require an offensive coordinator on the sidelines calling plays in order to use his time wisely and get things moving. What a breath of fresh air. And he listens to people, and leaves them with the sense (and hopefully a reality) their concerns are his as well. Each of these attributes are unusual leadership qualities in Bridgeport where broadcasting your opinion and statements are much more in evidence usually than a willingness to listen, converse in a meaningful dialogue and deliver what you have led people to expect. I understand Vallas’ contract year is complete in December. Hopefully he can and will stay with the District some additional time to assure his education improvement plan is implemented and the budget plan is lived up to by all parties. The State likely will set higher standards of accountability for the education system than has been expected in the past. That may mean open, accountable and transparent reporting, meetings and overall availability of lots of info, in a technologically simple form. Change can prove to be a win-win-win!

    Vallas has an important role for parents to play in the local school environment. And teachers may also like the way assessment tools can bring teachers necessary and welcome training or instruction to make them more effective than ever before and quickly so. Other partnerships he has discussed likewise offer real promise.

    The changes under Vallas before the end of the current school year as well as next, may positively move the needle on results in our distressed system. The Charter change under discussion will have a lot less to do with initial gains than is being claimed by the reform-minded Mayor. Had he known what to do, he would have done it publicly four years ago, but nothing would have been possible with a closed wallet.

    Folks from New Haven and Hartford have told the Revision group it is only sustained action without conflicts of interest year after year that will produce the system-wide movement of student scores up from the basement at the greater than State average necessary to close the acheivment gap. Vallas and team are at work. Time will tell.

    1. yahooy,
      “I think not!” With dismal record of where Bridgeport students stand relative to peers in other communities, and believing you are not a supporter of “prodigiously poor performance” anywhere in Bridgeport, is it fair to ask you, why not? Let’s get some dialogue going on the subject and especially on the facts of what Vallas and his team have done in the 10-11 week period they have been here.

      The current State-appointed Board may not be “righteous” to many, and some of the things in Malloy’s educational reform or Vallas’ educational improvement plan may not be pleasing to others, but it has not been unusual for our education system to be spending $300 Million and more year after year, not that we see all of that number in our City operating budget, but that is a different problem and one that needs immediate correction as well.

      Your thoughts, yahooy, on educational reform, turnaround or whatever in response to the status quo??? And if you have not been out to hear him in person make his pitch and then answer questions, it’s OK to say so. Most Bridgeport taxpayers are in the same situation at the moment. Time will tell.

    … … … … … … … … …
    Vallas: “The resource allocation process first considers the individual needs of all eligible students with disabilities. This budget will reduce special education expenditures while continuing to offer appropriate programs and services within our District. The allocation process is designed to ensure that due consideration is given to the specific needs of the students requiring services.”

    National Education Association: www

    The regulations also require States to take reasonable steps to make instructional materials accessible to the students who need them at the same time as those instructional materials are provided to students who do not have a disability.

    Bridgeport reality: Instructional materials for grade 4-6 special education students is spotty at best, and not district-level allocated. I’m still waiting.
    … … … … … … … … …
    Vallas: “In addition, the district will reduce the number of IEP-eligible students sent out of district after appropriate review.”

    CT State Department of Education: www

    The school district must provide you (the parent) with prior written notice when a school district makes a decision to change or not to change the identification, evaluation, educational placement or the provision of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) to your child. Prior written notice is found on page three of your child’s PPT meeting paperwork.

    Bridgeport reality: Parents, you’d better open your mail.
    … … … … … … … … …
    Vallas: “After careful review, we will increase the student-teacher ratios for special education resource room teachers and paraprofessionals, consistent with nationwide averages and IEP mandates.”

    National Education Association: www

    During the public hearings, NEA suggested that the new regulations include a provision encouraging states and local districts to establish caseload/classroom size standards that take into account total workload activities required and performed by school-based personnel. NEA is disappointed that the regulations continue to ignore the important issue of caseload/class size standards for special educators.

    Bridgeport reality: We don’t care what everyone else says, if we say there are nationwide averages, there are nationwide averages.
    … … … … … … … … …
    Special education placement used to be based on an achievement test’s discrepancy against an IQ test. Now we use AIMSweb, a reading fluency test, which Bridgeport has cut from weekly to quarterly. Lexia, the software program used to improve a student’s fluency has also been, for all purposes, eliminated. There are no other interventions for struggling students at this time during the school day.

    The resource room is a supplement to the mainstream class–it is not a self-contained, 6-hour-a-day placement where students are placed concurrently with others on different grade levels with different needs, which appears to be the upcoming model for special ed students.

    This is not a ‘child-friendly’ education for Bridgeport’s disabled students based on their educationally unique needs. Their needs, not Mr. Vallas’, should form the basis for the entitlement of each student with a disability to an individualized and appropriate education.

  3. Mr. Lee,
    Just in case yahooy doesn’t know (or have the desire) to google about education, Susan Ohanian is a teacher’s favorite, and one you can always dialog about:
    National education reformer to lead Bridgeport

    Ohanian Comment: Paul G. Vallas IS the quintessential education reformer–in the modern sense of the word:
    Chicago: First CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, 1995 to 2001. Like many bad policies, the CEO idea started in Chicago. To quote from the March 2002 Substance: “When Paul Vallas was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools they watched with dismay as he lied to the press, abused veteran educators, gave out lucrative no-bid contracts, misused standardized tests and engaged in shocking acts of racial bigotry. The issue has a series of articles about the Vallas reign, including this characterization of the Vallas leadership style that should be a warning to Bridgeport: “Management by bullying.”

    A blogger at summarized: “the guy is an egomaniac and a publicity hound who was 2/3rds show and 1/3rd substance and who couldn’t sit still long enough to focus on running the lumbering bureaucracy that is the district’s central administration. That $70 million deficit that came out of nowhere last October is an example. pushing for widespread privatization of school management in Philadelphia.” The blogger also said that Vallas got things done.

    New Orleans: Writing in the October 2007 Substance, Sharonjoy Jackson notes that New Orleans schools suffered two disasters: Katrina and Paul Vallas. Jackson points out that under Vallas’ reign mature African American (New Orleans) teachers were ‘pink slipped’ just at the time when important strides were being made to reestablish the teacher union.

    So Bridgeport, you are in for interesting times.

    1. I have been a Bridgeport resident for 25 years, a professional in the financial services field operating a local business for 47 years and a taxpayer beyond those years to municipalities, State and Federal government. Mom was a teacher and then went for her administrative Masters while teaching during the day. I am married to a literacy specialist in local schools and I am a current mentor to a sophomore at Central magnet, previously at Roosevelt.

      Change brings out responses and commentaries that are usually blends of selected facts and personal opinions. When those responses appear in print, they often become someone else’s “facts.” At this moment three or four initiatives or changes are in play and each will get its own set of responses. When we discuss material I try to stick to primary local sources and materials in the search for facts and truth. So let’s consider:
      ** The urban school district of Bridgeport despite significant expenditure of funds in recent years continues to produce failing results with no positive trend in sight.
      ** The school district has spent about $300 Million annually of funds 80-90% of which are from outside our City and the majority of which are from the State of CT. Whether the ECS formula is fair or not; whether the statistics, mandates and policies for Special Education are sensible or equitable is not the broad issue. Governor Malloy is fashioning a new and fiscally necessary approach at the State level that may promise to spur better practices with accountability at all levels.
      ** Mayor Finch’s “secret initiative” to get the State to rescue Bridgeport’s education process and tee up an opportunity for the Mayor to have more power and authority on one hand ran afoul of the CT Supreme Court but on the other hand has created a local Charter Revision Process to determine whether Mayoral authority (as well as full accountability, elimination of conflicts of interest, and creation of meaningful check and balance features) is critical to necessary school improvement.
      ** Paul Timpanelli remarked at the Thursday evening session of the Charter group that a 2.5 year audit of the BOE/City of Bridgeport fiscal process, entanglement, or whatever name you wish to place on it, has extended for 6 years and is not yet complete. The failure of structural governance in terms of open, accountable and transparent process is endemic to Bridgeport. That failure may be due to the realization by those who appoint that people who do not ask questions, who have little formal training, and who may become compromised by a job, a position, or an appointment are easier to control for the good of those in power, not necessarily for the good of the community at large.

      My own choice would be to have public discussion, dialogue, facts and figures from the City process as regular and systematic parts of our community terrain. Then we can let our legislators make solid decisions. And if they do not, they can be voted out of office by an awakened electorate. That is democracy. Many times the people do not get it right or many choose to sleep (and not know the issues or get out to vote). But if there are enough people keeping alive the hope that light and truth can triumph, we can get there. Shining the light, seeking the truth, calling all people to ask themselves what they can do for their community at large … acting courageously with accountability … I have heard this before … who could it be? Time will tell.

  4. *** Love him or hate him, fact is the Bpt school system needs drastic change from the same old “no accountability” from school staff and the “just throw more money” at the problem political view. So get the community involved in education, make school staff accountable, reduce top-heavy unneeded positions, make the schools safer and cleaner and get a grip on school budget money misspending, etc. First priority should be the kids, no? *** Can’t Please Everyone ***

  5. No Mo Joe.
    It appears to me Mr. Vallas will simply go from where we were to “if you can’t fix it, then at least spend less trying.” That is the reform Malloy and Finch are pushing.
    Let’s get back to abolishing the local board of ed. The state normally would appoint a special master and spend more money trying to fix it. Now it is disband the duly elected BOE, find a superintendent who will agree to do things on the cheap and accept the fact if you don’t want to do the real work that is necessary to improve education then at least do it for less.

  6. BEACON2,
    Please shed some light on what you and Mr. Timpinelli are talking about. In 50,000 words or less, please elucidate on the most important findings in this so-called audit and prioritize which ones should be implemented first.
    I eagerly await your reply.

  7. Mr. Lee,
    “I have been a Bridgeport resident for 25 years, a professional in the financial services field operating a local business for 47 years and a taxpayer beyond those years to municipalities, State and Federal government. Mom was a teacher and then went for her administrative Masters while teaching during the day. I am married to a literacy specialist in local schools and I am a current mentor to a sophomore at Central magnet, previously at Roosevelt.

    “Change brings out responses and commentaries that are usually blends of selected facts and personal opinions.”

    Are the above statements your qualifications to speak as an expert on the Bridgeport schools system? Talk about selected facts and personal opinions.

    1. Grin,
      I did. So tell me about yours. And the fact is Paul T. tells us the audit is ongoing so there are no final results.
      If you don’t like my opinions or my facts, I am disclosing attachments to education as public service for many years, and though I have grandchildren, I am focused as a mentor on one young life going through our schools. What is your background for sharing?

      I have spent a great deal of my personal time over the past several years learning, step by step, about how the City operates, from the documents that say the way it is supposed to work, and the documents that record how it is actually working. Go to and look at Bridgeport Finances 101, the first effort at letting people have some knowledge so they make connect the important facts rather than just emotions and opinions that ultimately go nowhere. Next Sunday at Harborview Market at 4 PM Andy Fardy and I will hold our fifth public session with PowerPoint and questions and answers. When Mayor Finch has his four public sessions, do you want to have some questions to ask him??? Will you know where to go to research his answers? Will you know what is missing in our public record at this time and why it is of critical importance to the City of Bridgeport? Time will tell.

  8. Our education dilemmas need fixing on two frontiers here in Bridgeport. First we must fix the classroom. We have to facilitate a program by which our children will be educated to go forth into their futures prepared to make a decent living. (“Poverty is, INDEED, conquered by the rapier of education.”) Secondly, there is too much money wasted in the goods and services that offer lucrative contracts many of which are ‘no bid’ and go to the friends of the DTC.

    I don’t believe Vallas will effect the change we need. Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia agree with me. I am particularly concerned with Vallas’ apparent close association with Fabrizi.

    What I want is a completely independent education executive who will come into this role and solve the classroom problems AND the business issues without any connection whatsoever to the very people who have put us in this position in the first place. We do not seem to have that in Vallas. I think he was hand-picked in the same manner Finch wants to appoint his own BOE. There is too much money involved.

  9. And Mr. Lee a.k.a. BEACON2 please shed some light on the ECS formula. “Whether the ECS formula is fair or not; whether the statistics, mandates and policies for Special Education are sensible or equitable is not the broad issue.”
    Do you consider the fact the wealthiest communities in one of the wealthiest counties in the United States received state assistance in education funding “fair?”
    Do you consider the fact eventually the state of CT allowed these wealthiest communities to use some of their ECS money for local property tax reduction because they simply felt they couldn’t spend more money on education?
    Do you realize the ECS formula was supposed to be a vehicle to help the poorer communities spend more on education in an effort to shrink the achievement gap which under the f’ed up formula has only continued to grow?
    Please light the way for the uninformed OIB readers.

    1. I ask a lot of questions, as a teacher does, to get discussion going. It appears you know more about ECS specifics than I do at this moment. Be my guest, do the teaching.
      My point in the quote was to say the old dollars and the new ones are being re-shuffled in the Vallas plan in new ways and in rapid form. Requests to State delegations to change ECS formulas have fallen on deaf ears for two decades or more. You want to wait? I am not an apologist for ECS, but rather for an attempt to look at things anew like common curriculum across grades in the City, like assessments that share data on student accomplishment of material but also provide information on teacher work so weak areas can be addressed quickly, like the millions spent on sending certain kids out of district where the potential lies in bringing them back in house for their individual instruction and a lot more. Bang away at ECS. I am sure we can all learn something. Time will tell.

  10. Lennie, nothing on the OIB blog about this?


    BRIDGEPORT — A Milford chiropractor faces up to five years in prison after admitting to conspiring to make false statements relating to health care matters as part of a million-dollar fraud scheme.

    Jennifer Lynne, 39, who owns and operates The Backstroke on State Street in Bridgeport, waived her right to indictment and pleaded guilty Thursday before U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill, according to a news release from the office of U.S. Attorney David B. Fein.

    Lynne will be sentenced on June 7 and faces a maximum of five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

    Read more: www

  11. Mr Lee. Mr. Lee. Hup Mr. Lee.

    I get it. You are a well credentialed man. You are impassioned about city financial affairs and spew forth much polysyllabic rhetoric in this blog and in that regard.

    I once told David Smith, ex of WICC (unable to reach an audience), his listeners EAT at Ralph and Rich’s. They don’t DINE at the TIGER Club on the Princeton campus.

    I give you the same advice. All, not some, all of your thoughts are worthy of consideration. I appreciate your efforts. Regrettably, the readership on this blog grows, flourishes and then dies in the amount of time it takes to read one of your posts.

  12. *** Finch was elected by “Zombieland” voters “twice” (no recall) and there was a choice, unlike Vallas who was recruited by the State Education Commissioner and could be fired if needed. Let’s “hope” again to “expect” new and great things, no? *** HERE WE GO! ***


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