Government watchdog Jonathan Pelto continues to question the veracity of school chief Paul Vallas from his perch www.jonathanpelto.com.
Faced with a 1.5 percent school budget deficit this year, Bridgeport’s Mayor Bill Finch traded the democratic rights of his constituents for a $3.4 million “loan” from Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s education commissioner.
Meanwhile, few are even aware that Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s part-time, interim superintendent of schools, is locking the taxpayers of Bridgeport and Connecticut into spending millions, perhaps tens of millions of dollars, and as a result of a series of no-bid contracts he has given to companies he has done business with in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans and elsewhere.
Readers may recall that last week, What, What? reported that Vallas had dropped the software Bridgeport Schools has used to track special education students and instead, locked the City into a long term contract with a software package called EASY IEP. Although staff reported that there had not been problems with the “old” Clarity software, Vallas made the shift and apparently failed to reveal that he had provided PCG (Easy IEP’s owner) with multi-million dollar contracts when he was the CEO of the Chicago School System and again when he was the CEO of the Philadelphia Schools. PCG even features the Chicago and Philadelphia projects, as case studies, on its corporate website.
Although Connecticut law, policy and tradition requires major contracts be put out to bid, in a recent memo to special education teachers and guidance counselors in Bridgeport, Vallas failed to explain if he had utilized a competitive bid process when purchasing the new software and he definitely did not bring together a broad-based team of users to identify what was actually needed and which product would best meet those needs.
Further investigation has discovered that Vallas’ quick shift to Easy IEP is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg of actions that he has taken to jettison a number of expensive software systems that Bridgeport has been using for expensive new systems sold by companies that he has worked with in the past.
To date, there appears to be little to no evidence that Vallas has worked with staff to identify any problems with existing software, nor has he engaged in a competitive bid process or that he has even asked staff who utilize the software to help identify which software would best serve Bridgeport’s School.
As details surface, we’ll report details here, but for those trying to keep track of Vallas’ spending spree here are the basic developments;
Vallas recently announced that he was ending Central at Night’s “alternative education and credit recovery program” which provided students with the ability to come in and use an E-Leaning computer program to access credit granting classes between the hours of about 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
In its place, Vallas announced a major new initiative called the Twilight Program, an “alternative education and credit recovery program” which provides students with the ability to come in a use an E-Leaning computer program to access credit granting classes. The Twilight program will run from about 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
As part of this “initiative,” it appears that Vallas ended the school district’s use of a software program called NovaNet and, instead, signed a longer-term deal to purchase a program called Apex. (A bit ironic since the Central at Night program had won accolades from Governor Jodi Rell who had provided the program and its teachers with an award not that long ago.)
Now, NovaNET claims its “courseware is proven cutting edge software that educators use across the globe. No other learning management system can provide the rigor and completeness of NovaNET Courseware, including engaging and instructionally relevant materials; research based instructional design and years of results.”
Compare that to Apex that claims “Apex Learning is the leading provider of blended and virtual learning solutions to the nation’s schools. The company’s standards-based digital curriculum–in math, science, English, social studies, world languages, and Advanced Placement–is widely used for original credit, credit recovery, remediation, intervention, acceleration, and exam preparation. Schools across the country are successfully using Apex Learning digital curriculum to meet the needs of students, from building foundational skills to creating opportunities for advanced coursework.”
While it’s not clear if Vallas’ major layoff plan included teachers in the “old” Central at Night Program, hurry up and apply notices were recently posted for six new part-time teachers to work with the new Twilight Program and the Apex Software.
Unfortunately, among its many problems, Bridgeport’s illegally appointed school board does not post all of its minutes, as required by law, and those that are posted are so vague, that is impossible to determine whether the school Board bothered to vote for the new software systems or, even whether a competitive bid process was utilized.
What is known is that Vallas retained Apex Learning when he was the CEO of Schools in Philadelphia and the Apex has also received contracts from Vallas’ old Chicago School System.
Also, earlier this year, Vallas and Michelle Rhee were part of a panel at a major national education conference that was sponsored, in part, by Apex Learning.
But Easy IEP and Apex are not the only new software packages that Vallas has purchased. Part II of this story will cover at least three more very expensive computer software systems that Vallas has bought.
In each case, there will undoubtedly be significant costs for license fees, installing the programs, training appropriate staff and maintaining the system going forward.
Anyone who knows the costs associated with purchasing, installing and using new software will recognize what has become a very bizarre situation.
Bridgeport has been laying off teachers; class sizes will jump with the range of classes students may take will drop.
Meanwhile, Bridgeport “was forced” to accept a deal in which they gave away unprecedented rights, in return for a $3.4 million “loan” to balance this year’s school budget.
Yet the whole time, Paul Vallas was signing contracts that will cost Bridgeport multiple times more than $3.4 million in the coming years.
These costs will not only push up property taxes in Bridgeport, but since the state of Connecticut pays 80 percent of Bridgeport’s school expenses, the bill for Vallas’ actions will have to be paid by every taxpayer in Connecticut.
And what is the illegally appointed Bridgeport Oversight Board going to do next week?
They are going to extend Vallas’ contract to make sure Bridgeport’s democratically elected board has no role in determining who will run the schools or any chance to determine if some of these software purchases can be delayed.