Vallas saga offers teachable moment on abusing power (By Wendy Lecker)

As the Paul Vallas court case heads for the Connecticut Supreme Court, public education advocate and Stamford Advocate columnist, Wendy Lecker, writes an outstanding, must read piece, which explains why the Vallas saga offers a teachable moment the abuse of power.

Wendy Lecker writes in the Stamford Advocate;

“The ouster of Bridgeport superintendent Paul Vallas has become a “cause celebre” among education reformers, who claim it is part of a broader conspiracy to perpetuate the “status quo.” Rather, it is a case study about the arrogance and abuse of power that have become the hallmark of the so-called reform movement.

The Vallas saga is the story of how an infamous reformer broke the law — a law written expressly for him — and how senior officials put personal and political connections above the law and welfare of Bridgeport’s children.

Following the illegal state takeover of Bridgeport’s schools, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor invited his friend Paul Vallas to head that district. Having never been certified to teach or work as an administrator, Vallas lacked the legal credentials to serve as an administrator in Connecticut.

Vallas previously led the school districts in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, leaving each one in crisis. His reigns were characterized by no-bid contracts, destabilization and a failure to raise achievement. Now, Chicago and Philadelphia have closed a record number of schools and the Recovery School District receives a consistent F rating by the state.

Despite his dismal record in those districts, the Malloy administration devised a law to enable Vallas to stay in Bridgeport. Passed in July 2012, it allowed Pryor to approve an uncertified acting superintendent if he completed an educational leadership program and a probationary period. Moreover, if he fulfilled these two requirements and the commissioner deemed him “exceptionally qualified,” he could obtain a waiver and be a permanent superintendent. In January 2013, Pryor approved Vallas to be acting superintendent. Vallas, hired in July 2012, was an illegal acting superintendent for most of 2012.

Under the law passed for him, Vallas had to complete an educational leadership program. Countless teachers and administrators complete advanced degree programs while working full-time. Vallas could not be bothered. Instead, he took one three-credit independent study, that he helped design, at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education and pretended that it was a leadership program. Neag’s dean later testified that this course did not qualify as a leadership program.

In April, two Bridgeport residents sued Vallas for violating this law. After trial, Judge Barbara Bellis rendered the only decision the clear language of the statute allowed — Vallas did not fulfill the statutory requirement and must vacate the position of superintendent. The judge noted that Vallas received preferential treatment “at every level.” The law was so clear that even Malloy’s allies, the Connecticut Council on Education Reform, acknowledged that Judge Bellis ruled properly.

Incredibly, Malloy and Pryor now decry the law they wrote and support the law-breaker, Vallas.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, an old friend whom Vallas hired in Chicago, also demonstrated his disdain for Connecticut law. He told The New York Times that opposition to Vallas was “beyond ludicrous.” His press secretary, Daren Briscoe, informed me that Duncan has known Vallas for years and believes he has “obvious qualifications,” based on Vallas’ experience in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans — the school districts he left in ruins.

I asked Mr. Briscoe, in light of a judge’s ruling that Vallas violated a Connecticut state law, what Secretary Duncan’s position on the Vallas matter was. He replied “no comment.”

The Vallas cronies’ disdain for the law is exceeded by their contempt for Bridgeport’s children. Vallas’ departure was predictable. Superintendent turnover is so common today that the head of the American Association of School Administrators calls superintendents “highly paid migrant workers.” Furthermore, from April to the judge’s decision on June 28, the Bridgeport Board of Education or its committees met 28 times. Discussion of a contingency plan in case Vallas was ousted was never on the agenda. In fact, while Vallas was on trial, the board convened a special meeting to appoint him as the permanent superintendent.

Bridgeport officials had ample time to plan a smooth transition from Vallas before school resumes in September, but stubbornly refused. In his appeal, Vallas now claims his departure will result in chaos. If the district cannot run without his presence, he must not be an effective manager. And if there is chaos, it is caused by the board’s unconscionable negligence.

The Vallas saga is the age-old tale of abuse of privilege by the powerful and well-connected. That is the story of American education reform. One can only hope that when the Connecticut Supreme Court hears this case, it will once again remind Bridgeport officials, as it did in 2012, that no one is above the law.”

You can find the original piece at:

  • buygoldandprosper

    Are the rats leaving a sinking ship? A for a cut in pay at the new job?

  • Pete Spain

    Wendy Lecker for CT State Commissioner of Education!

    In the CT Post article mentioned above, Vallas states:

    “Don Kennedy, who played a critical role in helping the district during the challenging transition we inherited, has played a critical role in balancing the budget and bringing operational excellence to our district….”

    Re the “Balancing the Budget” … REMINDER — from Jon Pelto post July 17, 2013 —

    Paul Vallas brags that he balanced the Bridgeport school budget but he regularly overlooks the fact that in addition to picking up 80% of the cost of Bridgeport’s school budget, last year’s budget was balanced with an additional $3.4 million forgivable loan from the State of Connecticut….but the money had to be spent on educational costs…

    CT residents, including fiscal conservatives who think the WSJ-endorsed Vallas is your man, wake up!

  • Apartheid First

    The idea that Paul Vallas has ever done anything positive for schools or school children is ridiculous and offensive.
    He is about one thing and one thing only: privatizing education so that corporate interests can grab public monies. They haven’t succeeded in taking Social Security, but public school dollars are a gold mine waiting to be raided.
    There is no concern with the quality of education, the services to children, the dignity of the teaching profession–instead, Paul Vallas and reformers like him (Adamowski) have presided over the wreckage of some of the largest school districts in the nation. For Paul Vallas to use Chicago, Philadelphia, and the Recovery District in New Orleans as examples of successful school reform is like Attila the Hun pointing to his invasion and sacking of Rome as urban enhancement.
    Thanks to Wendy Lecker for this lucid analysis, although Malloy, Pryor, the State board of ed, and the legislature are determined to look the other way and to let Vallas break any law he wants.

  • Jeff

    There’s definitely something very fishy about why Vallas turned to UConn’s NEAG School to undertake his phony “leadership program” that barely qualifies as even an independent study course and clearly fails to meet the statutory provision that was written to exempt him from the certification requirements hat all other superintendents must fulfill. With private teacher training institutions located nearby, why approach the Storrs campus? Could it be that Pryor had already arranged something “special” with Prof Villanova, the faculty member there who just happens to do lots of SDE consulting, enjoys other SDE “insider” perks, and thus might feel obliged to return a favor or two?

    Could it all along have been assumed that the legislation for Vallas would be only broadly followed, just like SDE only broadly follows a lot of other new “reformy” statutes, inasmuch as the Commish assumes he can interpret laws in whatever way he likes? In my book, there was definitely a quid pro quo transaction here — evidenced by Judge Bellis’ finding that neither Vallas nor Pryor were fully forthcoming, and the testimony of the NEAG Dean to the effect that this one independent study did not constitute a leadership program. Hope the Dean goes after Prof Villanova and ensures that policies are put in place to prevent cushy arrangements like this from happening again. It’s a direct insult to all of us educators who’ve struggled for years to earn and retain our credentials. And it’s a misuse of precious tax dollars supporting UConn.

    And where’s the superintendent’s association outcry about all this? Have they even bothered to file an amicus brief on behalf of the 99% of public school superintendents who actually have to abide by all the rules? Or are they also so beholden to Pryor and Malloy that they’re afraid to utter a peep, or maybe just totally indifferent to the wake of destruction Vallas left in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans?

  • mookalaboona

    We need to throw out Malloy, Pryor, Adamowski, and Vallas. I have been writing on CEA’s Facebook page saying we as teacher union members CANNOT endorse the bully Malloy for governor the next go-round. I have a feeling they are going to, but it would be a slap in the face to every single teacher if they did so.