Verdict in Vallas Case Leaves Bridgeport Divided

The past few weeks have seen a Bridgeport fiercely divided over the fate of its school system, which, at the moment, is uncertain.

In her 27-page decision, Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled that Paul Vallas be removed from his post as Superintendent of Bridgeport schools, a decision which came shortly after the Bridgeport School Board voted to extend Vallas’s contract for another three years. The city attorney’s office plans on filing an appeal. Vallas will retain his position until the appeal goes through or the court orders him out.

Since the decision, there has been a fury of activity both in opposition and support of Judge Bellis’ decision. Vallas supporters, including Mayor Finch and members of the school board, came out for a rally last Monday.  The rally took place at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, where Rev. Kenneth Moales, president of the Bridgeport’s school board, presides as pastor.

An email blast in support of the Judge’s decision was put out by the Working Families Party with a link to a petition to uphold the court’s decision on Tuesday.

The animosity in Bridgeport can be traced back to the summer of 2011 when the state Board of Education voted to disband the locally elected school board. A state appointed school board was then instated. In December of 2011, the new school board appointed Paul Vallas as interim superintendent. Vallas, a well-known education reform advocate who had previously led other school districts nation-wide – including a post-Katrina New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Chicago – arrived in Bridgeport to mixed reviews. Shortly after Vallas was hired, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled against the state and city’s decision and reinstated the elected school board. Vallas retained his position, and in March, after a 5-4 vote, he was awarded a 3-year contract as permanent Superintendent.

Originally hired on a short-term basis as interim superintendent, the state Board of Education voted in April to allow Vallas to substitute the state mandated thirteen month certification course for a much shorter independent study leadership program created for Vallas by the University of Connecticut.

Technically, Connecticut State law requires that superintendents have a master’s degree, complete coursework totaling to 30 credits related to the role of superintendent, and eight years of teaching or administrative experience in order to be certified as a Superintendent. However, the law does allow for these requirements to be waived by the state Board of Education for up to a year while applicants complete the necessary coursework. State law also allows for the state Board of Education to determine the parameters of that coursework.

Things escalated when Carmen Lopez, a retired Superior Court Judge and activist, and Deborah Reyes William, the mother of four Bridgeport students, filed suit against Paul Vallas, the city’s Board of Education, and the State Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, claiming that Vallas was unqualified for the position of Bridgeport Superintendent and was given special privileges.

For the time being, Bridgeport has a superintendent; however, these next few months will be critical in determining the fate of Bridgeport’s school system and the over 20,000 students it serves.

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