“In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.” – Mark Twain
There is simply no doubt that Mark Twain was a Connecticut visionary…
And controversy continues to surround one school board in particular – Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education.
Like a truck careening down a mountain, things started to go bad when members of the board, all of who were appointed by the Malloy Administration, followed the Administration’s directive and hired Paul Vallas.
The Board then stood by silently when Vallas swept into Bridgeport and signed more than a dozen no-bid contracts so that he could bring in a plethora of outside consultants, at a cost of $500 to $900 a day. It turned out that many of these “outside experts” even worked for Vallas’ private consulting company, “The Vallas Group.”
But then, on Monday night, in a fit of self-congratulations, the $229,000, part-time, interim Superintendent of Schools, and the illegal Board of Education, spent a part of their meeting highlighting their extensive efforts to suddenly follow the required public hiring processes.
With just a couple of weeks to go before schools begins, Vallas and the illegal Board announced that four new principals, two new assistance principals and a handful of new social workers had joined the administrative team that Vallas has put together.
The Board heard from Vallas himself that his office had followed the letter of the law when it came to advertising the positions and reviewing the applicants. In fact, Vallas told them that, despite his busy schedule, he was even able to interview more than half of the thirty or so candidates who applied for the various positions.
According to the Connecticut Post, Vallas and the Board made special mention that “many, but not all of the new hires, have previous ties to the district. Some are even homegrown.”
The media reported that the new principal at Bassick High School was a “runner up a couple of times for positions in the district,” the new principal at Central High School had taught at Central earlier in his career, and both the new principal at Curiale and one of the new social workers that had been hired, grew up in Bridgeport.
During the meeting, Vallas devoted special attention to the case of Brett Gustafson, who is resigning as the principal of P.S. 2 in New York City, to become Curiale’s new principal.
According to Vallas, he didn’t even know that Gustafson’s mother has been significantly involved in education related foundations in Bridgeport until after Gustafson had been hired.
It turns out that the new principal’s mother was not only a Director of the very Foundation that is paying part of Vallas’ salary, but she is also a Lifetime Trustee of the Bridgeport Public Education Foundation Fund, the foundation Vallas was appointed to earlier this year.
It was only five months ago that the state-appointed Board of Education asked the Fairfield County Community Foundation to donate $315,250 (and the Charter Oak Foundation to donated $75,000) to, “pay for Vallas’ services, as well as for consultants he has brought in since January to assess the school system, seal a multimillion-dollar budget gap budget and create a five-year plan to improve the district.”
It’s not clear if the Board understood, back then, that Vallas’ new team would actually cost the City closer to a million dollars, but at the time, the chairman of the illegal Board, Robert Trefry, bragged that more than $400,000 had already been raised and put into the Bridgeport Education Reform Fund, a program within the Fairfield County Community Foundation.
Since many of the donors to the new Bridgeport Education Reform Fund wanted to remain anonymous, it is certainly possible that Vallas, the Board Chairman and the Board members really didn’t know if the mother of Curiale’s new principal was or was not a donor to the Fund.
But it would be significantly harder for all of them to claim that they didn’t know she had been a member of the Fairfield County Community Foundation’s Board of Directors or a Trustee of the Bridgeport Public Education Foundation.
In any case, Curiale’s new principal may very well have been the best candidate for the job and the public comments about his work in New York City seem quite positive, but he certainly should have revealed (or Team Vallas should have known) that his connections might be perceived as an appearance of a conflict of interest.
What is certain is that the overall lack of transparency, once again, clouds what is taking place in Bridgeport’s public schools.