A few questions to ask Paul Vallas during his evaluation and before talk of a contract extension.

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Not that the Democratic majority on the Bridgeport Board of Education asked for advice, but just in case anyone associated with the Bridgeport Board of Education happens to read Wait, What?, having watched Education Reformer Extraordinaire Paul Vallas at work this past year, here are a few questions that deserve an answer prior to discussing any contract extension.

They begin with the most basic one of all:  Upon your arrival in Connecticut you were quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “My plan is to be done within a year, and to have the budget balanced, to have the academic plan embraced and supported, and to have the next generation of leaders ready to drive the system forward.”

What changed that you have decided not to stick to your original pledge?

And as to some specific Issues:

Budget:

  •  Although mandated by state law, the Bridgeport Board of Education has not adopted a budget for Fiscal Year 13.  Without a budget, the superintendent lacks the authority to make expenditures or sign contracts.  Why hasn’t a budget been approved?
  • A school budget was submitted to the Mayor for incorporation in his City Budget and there are at least 4 other versions of a school budget that have been posted to the Bridgeport Board of Education website.  Since none of those budgets received Board of Education approval, how were they developed and distributed?
  • More than seven months after the start of FY12, the minutes of the appointed Board of Education reveal that that Board had never approved an FY12 budget and you said  that action would be scheduled at the next meeting.  However, such action was not taken and the budget wasn’t approved in a timely fashion.  It appears from the minutes that an attempt was made to approve an FY12 budget at a later date but no language authorizing the retroactivity of the actions was included meaning those actions remained at risk of being deemed illegal.  Why wasn’t appropriate action taken related to the FY 12 budget?
  • In both FY12 and FY13 the superintendent has authorized expenses in excess of what is allowed without board approval.  Why have you consistently not taken any action when the process requires the Board of Education’s approval?

  Time on Task:

  • Considering the particular sensitivity to your outside consulting activities, why did you stop posting your schedule in June 2012?
  • In calendar year 2012, how many days did you work for the Bridgeport Board of Education?
  • How many of those days took place on weekends and holidays when school staff was not present?
  • How many Bridgeport school work days were you away from Bridgeport?
  • What percentage of your salary did you forgo as a result of your outside consulting?
  • How has the $1 million contract with the State of Illinois impacted your schedule?
  • How has the $18 million contract with the City of Indianapolis impacted your schedule?
  • What other outside paid consulting projects are you doing at this time?

Violation of Bridgeport and State Bidding and Contracting Laws and Ordinances

  • Within the first few months here in Bridgeport, you signed more than $12 million in no-bid contracts. How many of those contracts went through the sole source process in order to get permission to sign?
  • Since you knew that sole source permission was needed to get around standard bidding requirements, why did you approve contracts that you did not have legal authority to sign?
  • Of the no-bid contracts, how many were for personnel?
  • Which of those contracts are related to the present 1099/W-2 controversy?
  • In at least one case, a no-bid contract worth over $100,000 was signed with a company you have had a close relationship with in the past.  As part of that contract, the company was to bring new special education software on line starting July 1, 2012.  Despite payments being made, that Easy IEP software remains unused and Bridgeport teachers continue to use the old Clarity software.  Why hasn’t the new software been brought on line and what is the City paying for the right to continue to use the old software, which you had claimed was outdated and ineffective?

Certification:

  • When hired, your lack of state certification and appropriate credentials prohibited you from serving more than one year.  As a result of statutory changes that were added to Governor Malloy’s education reform bill, the Commission of Education has the power to waive certification requirements and allow you to stay.  Have you had any conversations with Commissioner Pryor about this issue?

Demeanor:

  • Media, including the blog Only in Bridgeport, has made reference to your “tolerance for dissent.”   On two recent occasions you left Board of Education meetings despite the fact that there were agenda items that required your participation or that of your senior staff.  A review of minutes from other towns hasn’t found a single instance in which a superintendent walked out on the democratically elected members of the Board of Education, who, under Connecticut statute are your employers.  This action would traditionally be referred to as insubordination and dereliction of duty.  Can you explain why you walked out of those meetings and how such action can be deemed appropriate?

Legal Fees:

  • Despite the failure of the Board of Education to adopt a budget, the original proposed budget for outside legal services in FY12 was $480,000, although the final cost was significantly higher.  This year the proposed budget for outside legal fees was nearly $800,000 and your most recent Financial Update projected that spending on outside legal fees will be in excess of $1,000,000.  There is not another school district in the state, including those in the major cities that spend anything close to that amount.  Can you explain the excessive use of outside legal services?

School Supplies:

  • You have repeatedly referenced your decision to decentralize the purchase of supplies and directed disgruntled teachers to take the matter up with their principals.  However, you’ve never referenced the fact that you reduced the supply line item by 50% before you shifted responsibility to the school leadership.  Since it is widely known that there weren’t sufficient supplies to start with, why did you make such a drastic cut to expenditures for supplies and why haven’t you informed teachers and principals that they are expected to meet expectations with far fewer resources?

School Safety:

  • You have made school safety a priority for your tenure and yet staff was not properly informed about a recent case in which a student’s threats were so serious that they led to the student’s arrest.  In this hyper-sensitive environment about school safety, how is it possible that there was such a complete breakdown of communication within the school community?

  • buygoldandprosper

    Arrogant Governor…arrogant underlings.

    It trickles down, and one can only assume that what is going on in Bridgeport is just payback for all the steak dinners Dan had there when he was mayor of Stamford and planning for higher office. One also wonders what,if anything,went into the wine locker Big Dan kept at Mortons…The Steakhouse. In certain French restaurants they have lockers to keep select patrons linen and cutlery. I doubt very much if Dan’s fine Irish linen was kept at the restaurant!

    The arrogance of this administration,top to bottom,is appalling.
    Keep up the good work Jon!

  • GloriaB

    How I wish I lived in Bridgeport so I could ask some of these questions! Let’s go, citizens of Bridgeport- these questions deserve answers.

  • George

    You might also want to ask about Vallas’s New Orleans “miracle” that has been addressed by these two Nola educational experts:

    http://www.wwltv.com/news/opinion/oped-187737761.html

    http://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/new-orleans-graduate-rate-miracle-or-make-believe/

    • JMC

      Two awesome, very recent articles which annihilate the “reformers” and cut through their lies like a laser through warm butter. Thanks, George!

  • Luv2Teach

    Great questions! And, wow, I had no clue about any threat and arrest in any of our schools! Unbelievable! I would also like to ask what the h#ll is going on with your 2nd round of Benchmark tests online (the first were written)? My students have been on “pause” since last Wednesday!! These tests have been cancelled for 4 days (since last Thursday)! The system is all messed up The schedules are all messed up. Was it maybe not a good idea to do these tests at all? At this rate, we’ll be doing them along with the CMT’s! And how reliable are these scores after the glitches and the interruptions, going to be? What are you using these for? What are you trying to prove?

  • ilovetoteach

    Fabulous questions!! I would love to know why all schools in the U.S. are talking about and acting upon safety and security measures following the tragedy in Newtown,CT. But, it has been reported that there are many schools in Bridgeport without functional cameras, teachers without classroom keys, many front doors have been left unlocked during the school day, and to many untrained security guards.

  • msavage

    I have another question for “superintendent” Vallas–Will you submit to a thorough psychological evaluation so that that it can be determined whether, as many people suspect, you are a clinical sociopath? The BOE would then be in a better position to decide whether they really want someone without a conscience, who is incapable of a normal, emotional attachment to other human beings, in a position to be making decisions that will impact generations of future residents of the city/state.

    • JMC

      Excellent comment, M!