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Connecticut Superior Court Judge Orders Vallas Removed from Superintendency


Ohanian Comment: Seventeen years after he was plucked from the obscurity of his post as budget director for Chicago's mayor (then Richard M. Daley) to become the first "Chief Executive Officer" of a large urban public school district, former Chicago (and Philadelphia, and New Orleans, and now Bridgeport) schools chief Paul Vallas has finally been ruled unqualified to be the superintendent of a major American school district. A Connecticut judge ruled on June 28 that Vallas did not have the credentials under Connecticut law to be in charge of the Bridgeport schools and that a quickie course (and a flurry of papers quickly graded "A" by a local university administrator) did not constitute the fulfillment of the requirements under Connecticut law.

I find the blatant, arrogant disregard for rules fascinating. This whole case rests on whether one independent course constitutes a program. You've got the Dean of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut testifying for the plaintiff and the Director, Executive Leadership Program, Department of Educational Leadership at the same university on Paul Vallas's side. The latter did not exactly make a case for his own leadership acumen.

To sum it up in a word: Pathetic.

This comes only a little more than a month after Hunter College president Jennifer Raab called Vallas "arguably the most experienced superintendent in the country." [CUNY Institute for Education Policy at Roosevelt House The Institute has landed: Coleman, King, Robinson, Steiner, and Vallas discuss the future of education at CIEP launch event] This event was May 9 in New York City--when Vallas was busy writing the six papers described below. Writing the papers, speaking in New York . . . And we don't know the schedule of his consultancy gig: [In August 2012, the Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners voted to enter into a contract with Paul Vallas and VOYAGER Learning, (a subsidiary of Cambium Education, Inc.), to turnaround fifteen Indianapolis schools. The price tag of which is $6 million a year for three years, the total amount not to exceed $18.1 million.] Vallas Turnaround System. Who was minding the store in Bridgeport?

Maybe Vallas should have invited his Hunter College fan to go to Bridgeport Superior Court to speak for him.


June 28, 2013--SuperiorCourt Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport, CT

Judge Barbara Bellis ruled that Paul Vallas, who was approved Monday as superintendent of schools by the Bridgeport Board of Education, did not complete a school leadership program as required by law.

In the Superior Court Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport, Judge Barbara Bellis offers a Memorandum of Decision, June 28, 2013 that answers when is a college course a course and when is it a program. We get a close-up look at what appears to be a bunco game played by then-acting superintendent of Bridgeport Schools Paul Vallas and University of Connecticut Director, Executive Leadership Program, Department of Educational Leadership, Robert Villanova.

The Judge's decision includes a whole lot of nitpickiing about a course of study required by the state of Connecticut for Vallas to be granted certification:


Vallas and Villanova first met in person in late February of early March 2013 and together designed a three credit independent study course for Vallas. . . . This was the first and only time that Villanova, who had run the Executive Leadership Program for ten years, had ever been asked to provide such an independent study like that provided to Vallas and, within days, prior to Vallas even submitting any work, Villanova invited Vallas to present to Villanova's district leadership class.

For the actual course, Vallas and Villanova met briefly in passing on one occasion, had two meetings approximately two hours long and had several telephone conversations. The court finds, based on the clear and unequivocal testimony of Vallas, that he never attended a class or in-person seminar, nor did he participate in any technology assisted discussions. The course explicitly rejects the testimony of Villanova that their meetings or phone calls constituted the "seminar and class sessions" contemplated in the course description, and further rejects as not credible Villanova's testimony that his telephone calls to Vallas constituted the "technology assisted discussions as referenced in the course description. . . . .
Villanova offered some confusing testimony regarding the use of Power Point that was of no value to the court. Vallas offered no testimony regarding the use of Power Point or other technology. . . .

Vallas submitted six papers to complete the course. The first was submitted on April 10, 2013, the second sometime thereafter, and the subsequent in rapid succession: #3 on May 15, 2013, $4 and #5 on May 29, 2013, and #6 on May 30, 2013. The court accepts Vallas' testimony that the work, although done over the course of ten weeks while fulfilling his employment as acting superintendent, could have been completed in a week.

Villanova informed Vallas within twenty four hours of each submission that his papers met or exceeded expectations. Vallas submitted his last paper by email on May 30, 20132, at approximately 12:30 p.m., and Villanova submitted a final "A" grade for Vallas that same day. (There is a footnote: The court rejects Villanova's testimony that this was normal turn around time, and finds, based on Villanova's testimony, that Villanova extended what he termed as "flex" to Vallas. The evidence was overwhelming that from the start, effort were made to accommodate the appointment of Vallas as superintendent of the Bridgeport public school system at every level. There is no doubt that Vallas received preferential treatment and that continued as Vallas designed with Villanova, and participated in the independent study course.)

On April 15, 2013 Pryor [Stefan Pryor, Connecticut Commissioner of Education] presented a report to the State Board of Education. His report explained that "the UConn Neag School of Education developed an individualized, noncertification leadershipprogram (emphasis added) for Vallas. The State Board of Education, pursuant to the amended statute, approved "the school leadership program offered by the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education." . . .(Footnote: The report inaccurately and repeatedly refers to the three credit course as a program. In fact, UConn did not develop a program for Vallas, and Vallas did not participate in a program at UConn. . . .

The court finds that the State Board of Education approved what they believed was a UCnn approved program, with requirements of classes, seminars, and technology assisted discussions that simply did not take place. This independent study course was not a UConn approved program; and the course Vallas completed was not the program the State Board of Education approved.

Footnote: Vallas never applied for admission to the University of Connecticut and paid no admission fees as either an in-state or out-of-state resident, although he did apply to participtae in the independent study course, paying approximately $2,200 for the course.

Then comes Analysis: A Quo Warranto from the judge.

During the closing arguments Vallas argued that the State Board of Education has the authority and discretion to define key terms and phrases in the statute, such as "school leadership program" and, therefore the court may not do so without engaging in a political question.

There's a whole lot of legalese, which boils down to this: In Connecticut Statute 10-157 stipulates that an individual must obtain a certification before he or she may serve as a superintendent. If an individual lacks such certification he or she may obtain a waiver that lets the individual serve for "probationary period not to exceed one year" and requires that during this period the individual "shall successfully complete a school leadership program offered by a public or private instruction of higher learning approved by the State Board of Education."

The statute does not define either "probationary period" or "school leadership program." The court was satisfied with Vallas's probationary period, leaving "school leadership program." But the program proved to be the sticking point.

Here's the court:

The only evidence presented at trial establishes that the course taken by Vallas was not a "program." The defendant's own witness, Villanova, testified that the course was not a program offered by UConn. Further, the Plaintiff's witness, DeFranco [Thomas DeFranco, Dean of the Neag School of Education], testified at trial that the course completed by Vallas did not qualify as a program either in his understanding of that phrase because a three credit course would not qualify as a program and because the course did not pass through the rigorous approval process that a program would undergo before being offered at UConn. . . .

The judge noted that the "executive leadership program" offered by the Neag School of Education, a thirteen month program. Vallas argued that it is improper for the court to look to the executive leadership program as a standard by which to evaluated whether the course was a "program" within the meaning of statute because 10-157 is intended to circumvent the certification requirements. And so on. But the court's conclusion is not that the three credit course fails to qualify as a "school leadership program" on the ground that it was not the "executive leadership program"; instead, the executive leadership program serves as a separate example of a "program" at the very institution at which Vallas took and completed the course.

And finally,

The State Board of Education approved what they believed was a UConn approved program, with requirments of classes, seminars, and technology assisted discussions that simply did not take place. The course completed by Vallas was not a program offered by the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education. Furthermore, Vallas never attended a class or in-person seminar, nor did he participate in any technology assisted discussion, each of which the course description submitted to the State Board of Education indicated would occur. Therefore, although Vallas completed a course, he did not complete the "program" that was approved by the State Board of Education. . . .

The court orders that Paul Vallas be removed from his office. Judgment shall enter accordingly.[emphasis added]

School's Out for Vallas

Connecticut Post June 28, 2013

by Daniel Tepfer


During his short time at the helm of Bridgeport's failing education system, Superintendent Paul Vallas was both hailed as savior and demonized as an arrogant, inflexible dictator.

Now school's out for summer -- and for Vallas.

In a decision expected to rock the city's education system, a Superior Court judge Friday ordered Vallas removed from his job.

"This could be disastrous for our education system," said Thomas Mulligan, a city Board of Education member and local lawyer. "If Superintendent Vallas is unable to continue serving, this will mean Bridgeport will have gone through four superintendents in a three-year period --John Ramos, Vallas, the interim superintendent who replaces Vallas and a permanent superintendent."

No interim superintendent had been picked as of Friday night.

Although the Board of Education voted Monday to elevate Vallas from acting to permanent status, Judge Barbara Bellis ruled that Vallas is not qualified under state law to serve as superintendent.

In her 27-page decision, the judge agreed with critics of Vallas that he had taken a "sham" course to become qualified to serve as superintendent.

"The evidence was overwhelming that from the start, efforts were made to accommodate the appointment of Vallas as superintendent of the Bridgeport public school system at every level," the judge ruled. "The court orders that Paul Vallas be removed from his office."

"Thank heavens we had a forum and justice has prevailed," said city activist Carmen Lopez. "This was not a technicality, this was a serious matter."

The ruling comes just shy of the two-year anniversary of the state's takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education and the ousting of the elected board, which was later reversed by the state Supreme Court. Vallas, 60, was appointed to the job in December 2011, and he started Jan. 3, 2012.

"I am going to continue to do what I have for nearly 20 years and focus on improving schools for students desperately in need of a better education," Vallas said in an email sent Friday night. "That has to remain our focus despite any other distractions as our students deserve nothing less. I'd like to thank my staff for their hard work in bringing the school system back from the edge of bankruptcy, laying the ground work for improved and sustained academic quality, and for always keeping the best interests of our students as their number one priority, regardless of the challenges."

A number of Vallas' supporters reacted with shocked surprise at the court ruling.

"Only in Bridgeport would the likes of Mr. Paul Vallas not be qualified to serve as superintendent," lamented Board of Education President the Rev. Kenneth Moales. "This ruling crosses the line; Mr. Vallas has proven his commitment to the children of this city."

Moales said a rally is planned in support of Vallas for Monday night. "This ruling will be appealed," he vowed.

"We anticipate a reversal so Superintendent Paul Vallas can continue his great work on behalf of the students of Bridgeport," said Mayor Bill Finch. "We disagree entirely with the substance of the judge's decision. We believe it goes against the great weight of facts presented at trial and the applicable law."

Lopez, a retired Superior Court judge, had sued Vallas, claiming he had not taken the school leadership program required by the state to become a superintendent for the state's largest city.

Vallas, who never took a graduate education course, was appointed last year by state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor to the $234,000 job.

During a hearing before the judge earlier this week, Pryor testified he is a friend of Vallas and was impressed with Vallas' work at other school districts, including New Orleans.

But Vallas lacked a state leadership certificate to serve as a superintendent, a certificate that at the time could only be obtained by completing a 13-month program at the University of Connecticut.

On April 15, the state Board of Education approved an abbreviated program -- essentially an independent study under the supervision of UConn Professor Robert Villanova -- for Vallas to take instead.

Villanova testified that while the course called for classroom sessions, seminars and technology-assisted discussions, Vallas met with him twice for about four hours and submitted six papers. The technology-assisted discussions were telephone calls.

"Vallas and his witnesses were, at times, less than candid with the court, Pryor when questioned regarding Vallas' departure from New Orleans, Vallas when asked to review documents to refresh his recollection, and Villanova with regard to the flex extended to Vallas," the judge stated. "The court accepts Vallas' testimony that the work, although done over the course of 10 weeks while fulfilling his employment as acting superintendent, could have been completed in a week."

The judge was also critical of the state Board of Education's decision to validate the course Vallas took.

"The state Board of Education approved what they believed was a UConn-approved program with requirements of classes, seminars and technology-assisted discussions that simply did not take place," she stated.

"This ruling is unfortunate for the Bridgeport school system and its 20,000 students," said Maria Zambrano, executive director of Excel Bridgeport, which has been supportive of the changes Vallas installed in his short time here.

Unless the city challenges the ruling, which Zambrano would support, "I would want the mayor, the City Council and the Board of Education to do what they can to keep Vallas," she said.

In the meantime, Zambrano said there has to be a conversation with the community to determine what qualifications are needed to lead this troubled school district.

"Is it just a piece of paper ... or a track record of results for improving educational outcome of its students? I believe it to be the latter," she said.

The split on the board and the hostility (between the five Democrats and the four aligned with the Working Families Party) will make it difficult to attract a top-notch superintendent, Mulligan said.

In the meantime, he believes Moales, the board's president, needs to call an emergency meeting. He said it will cost $100,000 or more to put together a search committee to find a new superintendent.

Bobby Simmons, another board member often aligned with the Working Families group, said the judge's ruling is an important lesson for students that government can't circumvent the law.

"I would request that we conduct a special meeting once we have had the chance to read the judge's decision," Simmons said.

Staff writers Michael P. Mayko and Linda Conner Lambeck contributed to this report.

dtepfer@ctpost.com; 203-330-6308; http:// twitter.com/dantepfer

— Judge Barbara Bellis and Daniel Tepfer
Superior Court Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport

2013-06-28

http://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov/CaseDetail/PublicCaseDetail.aspx?DocketNo=FBTCV136034307S

CT


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