The challenger slate, Howard Gardner, Dave Hennessey and Andre Baker, won Tuesday’s Democratic primary in a landslide. Many, including the Connecticut Post, are calling this victory proof of a growing anti-Vallas, anti-Finch consensus. I’m not certain we can assume that much, considering turnout was an anemic 11-12%. Most likely, Tuesday was the result of a well-organized opposition and at least a small number of disaffected voters who disagreed with the current board’s policies.
What happens next?
One thing is certain: the results of Tuesday’s election all but guarantee a dramatic shift in the make-up of Bridgeport’s school board, which is currently controlled by a pro-Vallas, Democratic-endorsed majority.
The Working Families Party coalition set themselves up with five candidates (Their two candidates, Andre Baker who is on both slates, and the Challenger Slate candidates) for five seats in hopes of taking control of the school board.
The only thing standing in their way: The GOP, which doesn’t exactly have a reputation for winning elections in the Park City, and possibly one independent candidate.
This leads us to an even bigger question—what will happen to Superintendent Paul Vallas?
Vallas’ appeal is still pending in the state’s Supreme Court, and arguments are set for next month. However, even though the case has been expedited, it could go on well into next year. Regardless, he may be forced to leave before the court makes a decision.
Technically, Vallas’s contract allows for either party to walk away. Though, if the school board ends his contract they would have to pay a hefty severance package, which includes 36 months of health insurance and one year’s salary.
The Working Families Party has made it no secret they wish to rid the district of Paul Vallas. The challenger slate has also been vocal about their opposition.
At the September 4th Candidate’s forum, Dave Hennessey blamed Vallas for the district’s problems, saying, “His [Vallas’s] illegal hiring is part of reason we have the mess we have now.” During the same forum, his running-mate Howard Gardner said, “Once we are on the board, the whole dynamics changed.” By their own admission, if elected, Gardner, Hennessey, and Baker are looking to make big changes.
I wonder if one of those changes will be ousting the Superintendent before year’s end.
I certainly hope not. Like him or not, firing the superintendent mid-year would destabilize the already precarious situation in the district.
School board member and Chairman of the Working Families Party, Maria Pereira, told the Connecticut Post she did not have a formal conversation with the challenger slate about Vallas. However, Pereira said that in her opinion, “ I think whatever the ruling is from the Supreme Court, that Vallas will in all likelihood either leave on his own or he will be terminated.“ [Connecticut Post, 9/12/2013]
If Vallas is terminated mid-year what does that mean for the district?
The change in direction could mean a shift in funding for certain programs. The district would also be forced to pay Vallas’ severance, the interim superintendent’s salary, as well as start the costly process of finding a permanent superintendent. All this would be done mid-year with funds earmarked for other programs.
Bottom-line: firing Vallas would be costly.