Vallas walks out on Bridgeport BOE (Again), CT Post implies it is the Board’s fault.

At 11:41 pm on January 14, 2013, CT Post reporter Linda Lambeck posted a story to her blog entitled, “Yes, Bridgeport BOE will still keep talking when staff and audience walk out.

The CT Post reported, “Three hours into the city school board meeting Monday, and the panel still had not gotten to the heart of their agenda, which included a request to approve $200,000 in grants to help facilitate the opening of the district’s new high schools and a report on staff absenses (sic). The audience was dwindling. So Vallas and much of his staff got up and left (they did not “storm”, just left). Vallas said as he left that he wasn’t going to make reports if there was no one there to listen.”

In an interesting side note, the CT Post reporter apparently went back into her story and added the language “they did not “storm”, just left) after various people referred to her initial story.

In any case, the CT Post article wrapped up with, “The board then debated whether to refer the question of staff attendance at meetings to the policy committee for quite a while. By then, there were only six members present and the motion passed. The meeting which started before 6 p.m., ended just before 11 p.m.”

The CT Post reporter’s words certainly imply that the Bridgeport Board of Education is so dysfunctional that it was appropriate for the superintendent to leave (or storm) out of the meeting.

So now let’s examine the actual facts:

The CT Post reported that, “The meeting which started before 6 p.m., ended just before 11 p.m.”

The truth is there was a SPECIAL Bridgeport Board of Education Meeting schedule for 5:45 and the Regular Board meeting was not scheduled to begin until 6:30.  It may have been a long night but that is in part because the superintendent and Board Chair decided to hold not one, but two Board of Education meetings that night.

Second, we can’t tell from the reporter’s comments exactly when Superintendent Vallas left.  Does the reporters’ reference to “Three hours into the city school board meeting Monday” mean he left at 8:45 – three hours after the special meeting began or at 9:30 – three hours after the regular board meeting began?

More importantly, do superintendents generally walk out of meetings with their employer – the local board of education?

A quick survey of some other Connecticut boards of education revealed that in my town of Mansfield, a recent board meeting lasted from 7:30 till 11:00 – The Superintendent did not walk about.

In New Britain, a board of education meeting lasted from 6:30 to 10:45 – The superintendent did not walk.

And in Glastonbury a board meeting went from 7:00 to 11:02 – the superintendent did not walk about.

The most relevant piece of news wasn’t even reported and that is that this is the second meeting in as many months in which Vallas walked (or stormed) out of an ongoing board of education meeting.

More importantly, in Connecticut, superintendents of schools do not walk or storm out of board of education meetings.

They don’t do it in Mansfield after 3 ½ hour meetings, they don’t it in New Britain after 4 ¼ hour meetings and they don’t in Glastonbury after 3 ½ hour meetings.

But Vallas left… walking or storming…again.

And instead of focusing on that extraordinary action, the CT Post reporter actually made it seem that it was the democratically elected representatives of the people of Bridgeport who were the ones that were out of line and responsible for irritating Bridgeport’s $234,000 part-time superintendent that he rightfully left during the middle of a board of education meeting.

Paul Vallas: Grow up or get out…

For the second meeting in a row, Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas stormed out of a Bridgeport Board of Education meeting.

Last night, according to the Connecticut Post, “The audience was dwindling. So Vallas and much of his staff got up and left. Vallas said as he left, he wasn’t going to make reports if there was no one there to listen.”

Paul Vallas makes $234,000 plus benefits, meaning taxpayers are paying well in excess of a quarter of a million dollars a year for his services – despite the fact that he has a lucrative private consulting business on the side.

Vallas was hired by the former, illegal, Bridgeport Board of Education after Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, asked him to take the Bridgeport job.  Now he serves the democratically elected members of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Whether it is arrogance or an anger management problem is unclear, but what is clear is that Vallas apparently lacks the emotional disposition to work in an environment in which the People’s will is represented through a democratically elected board.  (All of his previous positions have been in situations where he worked for a mayor or an appointed board.)

To walk about during a board of education because it is going on too long is beyond unbelievable.

Vallas serves the Board and the Board serves the People – not the other way around.

His duty to provide detailed updates and reports is not for the benefit of the public who may be attending the meeting, although they are certainly welcome to come and hear those reports.  Under Connecticut law the superintendent of schools provides reports because they give the board of education the information it needs fulfill their legal duty to set education policy in that community.

Vallas’ pattern of apparent disregard for the laws and rules that apply continue to grow.  Upon arrival in Connecticut last year, he signed more than a dozen no-bid contracts, in violation of state and local laws.

And since Bridgeport has failed to properly adopt a school budget this year, it appears that Vallas is spending public funds in violation of state law.

The CT Post story – see link below – seems to imply that it was the Board of Education’s fault since they “voted to rearrange the agenda” to take up other issues.  But of course, that is the right of any board, as long as the change is made in a procedurally appropriate manner.

A longer than expected meeting certainly doesn’t provide Vallas with the right to storm out of the meeting or give him the right to take the other public employees that work for the school system with him.

Perhaps the most ironic part of all is that the last item on the agenda – an agenda created by Vallas and the chair of the Bridgeport Board of Education was supposed to be:  12.  New Business: Need meeting to evaluate and consider contract extension of Superintendent

Once again Vallas reveals why he shouldn’t be Bridgeport’s superintendent of schools and certainly should be granted yet another contract extension.

See CT Post story here:

Evidence of alleged crimes with Bridgeport’s School Budget going to State Auditors and Attorney General

Readers of Wait, What? are well aware that over the past year this blog’s investigative work has turned up evidence of what appear to be serious violations of law by Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, the Bridgeport Board of Education and the City of Bridgeport.

In direct violation of Connecticut and Bridgeport laws, Paul Vallas signed more than a dozen no-bid contracts, many of them going to individuals who worked for his private consulting company or to companies that he has worked with in the past.  The cost of these contracts obligated the taxpayers of Bridgeport and Connecticut to more than $12 million in expenditures.

In at least one case, a no-bid hundred thousand dollar contract with a company Vallas has a close relationship was signed and payments made to utilize vital special education software starting July 1, 2012.  That software remains unused and Bridgeport teachers continue to use the old software the city was using.  Despite this fact, Vallas’ office responded to a recent Freedom of Information request by saying that no contract extension existed with the old company.

In addition to the bidding and contracting violations, Superintendent Vallas and the Bridgeport Board of Education’s failed to properly adopt a school budget, both last year and again this year, meaning that Vallas and his administration lacked the legal authority to transfer and spend tens of millions of dollars in federal, state and local funds.

When these issues were raised publicly, neither the Bridgeport Board of Education nor Bridgeport Mayor Finch took the necessary steps to investigate and act on these allegations.

In addition, Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education and the State Department of Education failed to fulfill their statutory duties to investigate and act on these issues.

Connecticut law is very clear on this matter.  Since state dollars are used to fund Bridgeport’s schools, the superintendent and Board of Education must meet the legal requirements of the Connecticut State Statutes.

The evidence revealing the potentially illegal activities includes Bridgeport Board of Education memos and official documents, meeting agenda and minutes, emails between public officials and testimony from witnesses who will need whistleblower protections.

Considering officials from Bridgeport and the State Department of Education have been unwilling to act, the job no rests with other state agencies and officials.

It is well understood that according to state statute, “anyone who knows of corruption, unethical practices, state law or regulation violations, mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority…may send information regarding it to the state auditors…”

“The auditors must review the matter and report their findings and recommendations to the attorney general, who must conduct any investigation he deems proper.  The auditors must assist with the investigation.  After the investigation, the attorney general must, when necessary, report his findings to the governor.  If the matter involves a crime, he must report it to the chief state’s attorney.”

We can be sure that if these violations were taking place in any other Connecticut community, local and state officials would take immediate action to investigate and hold officials accountable for their actions.  In fact, if any superintendent of schools or any public official illegally executed contracts or spent funds without the authority to do so, the response would be swift and thorough.

But for reasons that remain unclear, the Finch and Malloy administrations have apparently turned a blind eye to these alleged violations of law.

Their inaction has created a situation where advocates for public education and the students, parents and taxpayers of Bridgeport and Connecticut must look elsewhere if they want to see justice served.

For that reason, and as proscribed by Connecticut’s whistleblower laws, the materials about the purported illegal activities that have been collected over the past year will be turned over to the State Auditors for their review and action.

Updates on this issue will be provided as information becomes available.

Education Reformer Vallas reverses course, now open to keeping part-time, $234,000 Bridgeport superintendent’s job.

Just before the Christmas holiday, the Only in Bridgeport blog reported that Paul Vallas has changed his mind and that although he is scheduled to leave his post as Bridgeport’s Superintendent of Schools in June, “he’d be open to an extended contract offer from the Board of Education beyond the end of the school year in June.”

Vallas told OIB, “I would be open to discussing staying beyond June should the current Board decide that this would be in the best interest of Bridgeport’s students and community at large.”

OIB observed that, “The larger questions center on his education interests around the country through his consulting practice as well his tolerance for the dissent on the current elected school board. Majority school board members want Vallas to stay.”

I don’t know exactly what OIB means about Vallas’ “tolerance for dissent,” although Vallas did storm out of a recent Board of Education meeting when he was asked a rather simple question, but it certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise if Mayor Bill Finch and the Democratic majority on the Bridgeport Board of Education were involved in an effort to persuade education reformer extraordinaire Paul Vallas to stick around.

That said, considering Connecticut taxpayers pick up about $187 million of Bridgeport’s $225 million school budget, one would hope that someone in authority would make an attempt, even a feeble one, to force Vallas to address some key questions before they flirt with the notion of extending his contract, yet again.

Since arriving in Bridgeport, Vallas’ private consulting company signed a one million-dollar contract for work in Illinois and Vallas’ new corporate partnership signed an $18 million deal with the Indianapolis School System.  In addition, Vallas apparently continues to do work in Haiti and has been actively pursuing work in other locations as well.  While rumors abound that his relationship with VOYAGER Learning, (a subsidiary of Cambium Education, Inc.) has soured, certainly no other community in Connecticut would allow its superintendent to accept multi-million-dollar consulting contracts outside of his regular job.

An initial question certainly relates to his time on task.  Back in June 2012, Vallas made his January – June work schedule public, by posting it on the Bridgeport Board of Education website.  By claiming to work most weekends and spending no less than ten hours a day at work, Vallas’ office argued that while he wasn’t compensated for his time out-of-state, or off the job, he still managed to log enough hours to collect his full proportional share of his salary.

However, interestingly, after signing the multi-million dollar contacts in Illinois and Indianapolis, his schedule has never been made public again.

Another unanswered question is why neither the Board of Education, the City of Bridgeport or the State Board of Education investigated the fact that during his first few months in Bridgeport, Vallas signed more than a dozen no-bid contracts costing Bridgeport and the State of Connecticut more than $12 million.  A number of the no-bid contracts were personal service agreements with people who worked for his private consulting company, The Vallas Group.  In one case, Vallas claimed that he had received permission from the City for a sole source contract, but the vast majority of the contract appeared to be in direct violation of city and state bidding laws and requirements.

Travel to any one of Connecticut’s other 169 towns and no town manager or superintendent of schools would last a week if they spent even 10 percent of that amount in violation of the city and state’s basic bidding requirements.  But in this case, no investigation or action of any kind was taken.

Another question begging for some type of answer is by what authority Vallas is even spending state and local funds? While Vallas made numerous changes to last year’s Bridgeport school budget, at their  February 13, 2012 Board of Education meeting, the previous, illegally appointed board recorded in their minutes that, “Further discussion revealed that a 2011-12 budget has never been approved  by the Board.”   Even after that extraordinary announcement, it appears neither Vallas nor the Board took timely action to ensure Bridgeport’s schools had a budget as required under state law.

Furthermore, while Vallas said at that meeting and others that “a formal budget will be presented for approval,” there is no evidence that the previous or present Board of Education formally adopted or modified a budget for this year, as required under Connecticut State Statutes 12-220 and 12-222.  At last count, there have been no fewer than five different versions of a Bridgeport school budget posted on the City of Bridgeport or the Bridgeport Board of Education websites and none of them were developed using the laws that apply to every school district in Connecticut.

Considering Connecticut state law absolutely requires budgets to be duly approved and contracts legally in place before any public funds can be expended, Vallas’ apparent failure to follow the most elemental provisions of the law raise serious questions about who is minding the shop.  Failure to follow the law could have devastating financial consequences for the City of Bridgeport, the Bridgeport Board of Education, the taxpayers of Bridgeport and Connecticut and vendors doing business with the Bridgeport Schools.

While it is truly inconceivable that the State Department of Education, the City of Bridgeport or the Bridgeport Board of Education has allowed these developments to go unaddressed, in fact, these problems are simply the tip of an even bigger mountain of problems.

For example, despite signing a no-bid contract with a new out-of-state vendor to track special education services last April, Bridgeport continues to use the old special education software.

Vallas’ claim was that the company, which had worked with him in Philadelphia, Chicago and New Orleans, was so unique that he didn’t even have to go out to bid to know that their EasyIEP software should be used instead of the Clarity software the Bridgeport Schools had been using.

A contract was signed; purchase orders approved and payments made to the new company, but although the switchover was scheduled to take place on July 1st, delay after delay pushed off the implementation schedule.

On Monday of this week, teachers received a memo stating, “This email is being sent to bring district staff the latest information with regard to the implementation of our new IEP writing software, EasyIEP.  Based on staff input, technical issues, and additional caveats, Clarity will continue to be our IEP writing software for the next few weeks – please continue to use Clarity until further notice. As always, thank you for your continued hard work and dedication to the children of Bridgeport.”

And when it comes to the question of taking responsibility for his decisions, one need only look at how he recently treated teachers and his fellow school administrators over the issue of school supplies.

Last month, after being confronted by teachers and staff who didn’t have sufficient supplies to perform their jobs, Vallas wrote a scathing email which read, in part, “Dear Teachers and Staff Members…In prior years, the Central Office was responsible for handling the approval and processing of all school supply requests.  This had the benefit of taking something off of your principals’ plates, but also some drawbacks as principals were unable to fully prioritize what to purchase and when to best serve the teachers and students in their building.  In an effort to make sure all money is following the students, and that principals are given autonomy over their buildings, we moved this year to allowing principals to assume full responsibility over purchasing supplies for their faculty and students…If you feel like you are being undersupplied, I urge you to please communicate your needs with your principal.  I am writing to them as well to ask that they please make sure they are continuing to monitor the needs of their teachers…”

There appears to be one not-so-small problem with this argument; while it may not be clear whether the Bridgeport Board of Education actually approved this year’s school budget or not, what is clear is that the budget for school supplies was slashed by 50 percent before it was “transferred” to the principals to oversee.

So even now, instead of admitting that the lack of supplies was, in fact, at least partially a product of his actions, his modus operandi was to simply throw his own administrators under the bus, while leaving the teachers and children without the supplies they need

While it may be unclear what is going on behind the scenes in Bridgeport, one thing is clear:  at a time when the state is cutting essential human services, Paul Vallas has a lot of explaining to do about how he and his operation are handling taxpayer funds.

Recently, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch began a listening tour to collect input on Bridgeport’s schools.  If the Mayor was serious about getting things on track in Bridgeport, he’d start by ensuring that his Administration, the Democratic Party controlled Board of Education and their superintendent of schools were fulfilling their legal, ethical and moral duties to the children, parents and residents of Bridgeport and Connecticut.

Vallas’ “No Bid” contracts continue to haunt Bridgeport School System

When Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s $229,000, interim superintendent of schools, arrived here in Connecticut and almost immediately signed more than a dozen “no-bid” contracts, most of them used to hire consultants he knew personally, including a number who were part of his private consulting firm, The Vallas Group, the prognosis wasn’t good.

As we learned, it was classic Vallas.  Even a quick search found articles like the one printed in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans on March 25, 2008, in which a reporter noted that when Vallas arrived there, “The vast majority of the RSD’s (New Orleans Recovery School District) contracts were not competitively bid.”

Vallas’ no-bid contracts in Bridgeport total more than $12 million and considering most violate Connecticut and Bridgeport bidding laws and requirements, the lack of response or follow-up from the Malloy administration and the administration of Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch is particularly unsettling.

Connecticut and its taxpayers are well aware of what happens when public officials disregard bidding requirements.  Failure to follow bidding laws leads to higher costs, wasted tax dollars and, in the case of John Rowland, a trip to federal prison.

But Paul Vallas’ actions were met with deafening silence from Bridgeport’s illegally appointed Board of Education and from the Governor and Mayor, both of whom had a fiduciary responsibility to make sure tax dollars were not wasted.

One “no-bid” contact went to the Public Consulting Group, a company that had received millions in contracts from Vallas in the past.  Their website even featured Vallas projects from Chicago and Philadelphia, where Vallas had served as the CEO of those school systems.

As had occurred in other places where Vallas worked, the Public Consulting Group (PCG) was brought in as consultants to advise Vallas and one of their recommendations was to then hire PCG to provide additional consulting services, along with software systems.

In April 2012, Vallas signed a contract with the Public Consulting Group to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates and provide new special education software, despite the fact that Bridgeport already had special education software.

When, after the contract had already been signed, public questions arose, Team Vallas wrote on their website, “EasyIEP:  So what is this all costing?  EasyIEP is working in the district on an at-risk basis, meaning they only get paid 15% of any reimbursement savings they bring the district.  Outside of this cost, EasyIEP is charging an online storage fee of $15,000.00 for the ability to attach all documentation to the program.”

What a bargain!

In return for giving the Public Consulting Group the no-bid contract on the Medicaid reimbursement,  Bridgeport would be saving money because it could end the contract it had for its previous special education software (called Clairty) and instead have virtually free access to a new, better product called EasyIEP.

The contract, signed by Vallas on April 23, 2012, would run from April 15, 2012 to June 30, 2014 with automatic one year extensions unless the City of Bridgeport provided a 6 month notice to cancel the contract.

In return, the Public Consulting Group promised to have the comprehensive EasyIEP special education software system in place for the 2012-2103 school year and that teachers would receive the training they needed in September 2012.

In May, Team Vallas informed staff that:

“This summer the district will be changing IEP software.  We will be using Easy IEP…At this time we expect a smooth migration from CLARITY to EASY IEP…The student’s “Current” IEP data will be transferred into the new program.”

In November, Team Vallas wrote to the faculty and staff of Bridgeport’s schools saying;

“As you are aware, the Bridgeport Public Schools has secured a new IEP writing software program, EasyIEP. This new software program is an innovative tool for creating and managing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and special education information… EasyIEP is cutting edge software that will decrease paperwork and increase efficiency.”

Beginning December 3, 2012, the district will be going forward with full implementation of EasyIEP; Clarity will no longer be used. Our goal is to provide a strong foundational knowledge to all EasyIEP users throughout the district and make the transition as easy as possible. To accomplish this goal, multiple levels of training and support will be in place…”

Then, earlier this month, just the day before the shift to the new software was scheduled to take place,  Vallas’ top special education administrator wrote to explain that while the implementation of EasyIEP would still take place, due to continuing issues and problems;

“Clarity will continue to be our IEP writing software”… please continue to use Clarity until further notice.”

As of now, although the Board of Education apparently has not been informed of the problem nor has it authorized a contract extension with Clarity, the old software continues to be used.

One can assume that Clarity isn’t donating that service, but to-date, Team Vallas has failed to provide any documentation of how Bridgeport schools could be using a product whose license ran out last summer.

In addition, one document that has surfaced is a contract amendment between Vallas and the Public Consulting Group that was signed on August 10 2012, with changes that were made retroactive to April 15, 2012.  (Again there is no sign that the school board was informed of this change.)

Finally, in September, the Public Consulting Group billed Bridgeport’s Chief Financial Officer an initial $2,500 as part of an overall bill for $12,500 for the so-called “PaperClip module” and sent another bill last month for $15,301.67 for the Public Consulting Group’s 15 percent share of funds collected from Medicaid in June, July and August 2012.

As a result of those invoices, Bridgeport’s purchasing agent authorized a purchase order for $12,500 and a second one in November to pay the Public Consulting Group Inc. up to $100,000.

You’d think these actions would persuade the Malloy or Finch Administrations to review all of Vallas’ “no-bid” contracts, but then again, maybe guarding public dollars isn’t a real high priority these days.

Keeping high school students in school and preserving school sports…Bridgeport style

For 31 years, students at Bridgeport’s Bassick High School have been participating in the high school’s indoor track program.  That was until Team Vallas, under the direction of John Fabrizi, recently eliminated the program this fall.

When Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas blew into town with his $229,000 salary and his team of out-of-state consultants (most of whom worked for his private consulting company, The Vallas Group), former Bridgeport mayor John Fabrizi, whose tenure in office ended in 2007 following a drug scandal, was serving as the Director of Adult Services.

Today, Fabrizi is one of the most powerful players in Vallas’ “education reform” operation.

According to a recent Connecticut Post article, apparently one of Fabrizi’s newest duties is to be “in charge of helping rebuild a middle school sports program for the district.”

So, without the input of the Bridgeport Board of Education, Fabrizi eliminated the high school’s historic in-door track team and transferred the money to supplement the Bridgeport Parks and Recreation’s Middle School Basketball program.

As quoted in the CT Post, Frabrizi said, “Part of the thinking is to rebuild a solid foundation by creating a feeder program for high school sports.”  And no doubt, creating “a solid foundation by creating a feeder program for high school sports” is definitely a laudable and important goal.

But what about the destruction of the in-door track program.

Call it ironic…

Just two weeks ago, Governor Malloy was just down RT. 95, right there in Fairfield County, lamenting the fact that Connecticut’s urban high schools seem unable to keep up to 50 percent of their students between the 9th and 12th grades.

At Bassick High School, for example, the class of 2010 lost 32 percent of its students between 9th and 12th grade.  Compare that number to the fact that 13 percent of the middle school students down the street at the Curiale School left that school between 4th and 8th grade.

So, faced with an unprecedented dropout rate, what does Team Vallas do keep their high school students in school, they eliminate the popular indoor track team that serves 100 to 200 Bridgeport high school students, a program that is successfully keeping high school students in school and on track – literally and figuratively.

Retired teacher and coach of the girl’s in-door track team, Andrew Kennedy, was rightfully upset and wrote to the Connecticut Post reporting, “Approximately 180 to 200 students from the city’s high schools participate…Both the Boys and Girls teams take the same bus, there is only one meet a week, and when it comes to the FCIAC championships the coaches provide their own transportation for themselves and the participating athletes.  There are no police to hire, no ambulance or doctors, no uniforms to buy (I bought tee shirts and sweats for the Girls myself), and the coaches are the lowest paid public coaches in the FCIAC!”

Coach Kennedy goes on to point out that’ “It’s too bad Bridgeport can’t take a clue from New Haven.  Both high schools have outdoor track facilities.  The lucky students from Hillhouse can step out of their school into the “world-class” Floyd Little Athletic Center.  It’s no wonder that the Hillhouse girls have dominated Girls Track in the state recently!  How does New Haven do it?  It seems that Bridgeport just doesn’t think it’s that important to provide for its athletes…To lose the Indoor Track Program would be a shame.  It’s vital to keep the athletes engaged.”

But instead, a Vallas political operative cuts the program that is helping some of the very students most at risk.

And perhaps the most amazing piece of all is that a decision of this nature was made without the approval, or apparently even the knowledge, of the Bridgeport School Board.

Cutting out this low-cost, popular program is just another sad reminder of the damage Team Vallas is doing to Bridgeport and its school students.

There is no question that Connecticut’s urban schools are being inadequately funded and short-changed.  Without sufficient resources, good programs get cut.

However, above all else, successful schools need leaders who have the compassion and skills necessary to help schools overcome the challenges they face.

When the Bridgeport business community wanted a nationally known “education reformer” to take over the schools, a small group of Fairfield County’s wealthiest individuals dropped $400,000 to help pay for Vallas’ salary and related costs.

If those business executives really cared about Bridgeport and its students, they’d be there right now to cover the costs of Bridgeport’s in-door track team.

In the meantime, the Board of Education should step in and force Mr. Vallas and his “team” to stop talking about helping Bridgeport’s schools and start working to keep high school students in school.

And one of the first things they can do is und0 Mr. Fabrizi’s bad decision.

The Bridgeport Board of Education has a meeting tonight, November 26, 2012.

Let’s see whether Mr. Vallas reverses this bad move.  If not, the Bridgeport Board of Education should instruct him to solve the problem.

Here is more from the CT Post:


A must read – Voters have spoken: No corporate school reform by Wendy Lecker

Wendy Lecker, Education Advocate and columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group, has a must read column in yesterday’s Stamford Advocate and CT Post…

“In this age of instantaneous global communication, it is incredible that a simple message sent by voters in Bridgeport has not reached leaders in Hartford, just 50 miles away. On Nov. 6, a rare event in modern politics occurred: democracy prevailed over money. Average citizens defeated a Bridgeport charter revision proposal backed by a veritable who’s who of well-endowed corporate education reformers. This David-vs.-Goliath victory is also significant because it was the first time a core education reform strategy was put directly before Connecticut voters — and voters rejected it.

Recall that in July 2011, Mayor Bill Finch, the charter lobby ConnCAN, founders of Excel Bridgeport, and the chair of the state Board of Education engineered a secret and illegal takeover of Bridgeport’s elected board of education. After Connecticut’s Supreme Court invalidated the scheme, Mayor Finch again attempted to strip voters of their right to an elected school board with a revision to the city charter calling for an appointed board of education. This time, Finch called in the big guns. In addition to Excel Bridgeport and ConnCAN, the revision got support from the Connecticut Council on Education Reform, a business group, and national figures like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and failed DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

These “reformers” poured over a half a million dollars into ads, videos and pamphlets saying “Vote Yes.” They lauded the “progress” made in Bridgeport by the reformer Superintendent Paul Vallas, who left his previous districts, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, in crisis. The hallmarks of Vallas’ tenure in Bridgeport so far have been adding an inexplicable and cruel three weeks of standardized testing, and increasing spending on administration. The “Vote Yes” group also made a host of false claims, ranging from assertions that only an appointed school board would help renovate buildings, to declarations that an appointed school board would lead to improved student outcomes, strict accountability for officials and increased parent involvement.”

Read more:


Team Vallas increases spending on Bridgeport’s 64 principals and assistant principals by 22.4%

According to a new budget document that has been added to the Bridgeport School System’s website, Paul Vallas, and his “Education Reform” efficiency team, have increased spending on Bridgeport’s 64 school principals, assistant principals and management supervisors by $1,696,054 million over the amount spent on these senior school administrators last year.

During the 2011-2012 school year, the Bridgeport education budget allocated $7,572,512 to pay the top 64 Bridgeport school administrators.

But this year, according to a new Financial Condition Report released by Superintendent Paul Vallas, the taxpayers of Bridgeport and Connecticut will be shelling out $9,268,566 to cover the salaries of the 64 principals, assistant principals and management supervisors.

This $1.8 million increase means that the total being spent on these positions has increased by more than 22 percent, in just the past year, despite the fact that Bridgeport’s fiscal situation is so limited that the school system is reducing the number of school teachers.

The new budget report fails to explain whether all senior administrators received massive salary increase this year or if the additional money was distributed to a few new or well-placed administrators.

In addition, the $9.2 million spent on these 64 administrators does not count the $2.8 million that goes toward paying Vallas and the other costs associated with the Superintendent’s Office.

Readers may recall that last summer, Wait, What? broke the news that Team Vallas was implementing extraordinary cuts to Bridgeport’s Special Education budget, the deepest cuts, by far, in the City’s history.  The Vallas budget cut at  least 17 special education  teachers from the school budget, while  removing  more than $2.5 million in additional funds, money that was being used to place students with disabilities in the most appropriate educational settings.

One other note, according to this last Financial Condition Report, Vallas budget has also increased spending on outside lawyers and legal services from $430,000 to $700,000.  Perhaps the 63% increase reflects that fact that Team Vallas is expecting to be sued a lot this year.

Superintendent Vallas, along with “education reformers” from around the country, were part of Mayor Finch’s recent failed attempt to do away with a democratically elected board of education in Bridgeport.

Bridgeport’s latest Financial Condition Report can be found here:

Rejection of “education reform” proposal in Bridgeport will have repercussions

The defeat of Mayor Finch’s charter revision proposal that would have done away with an elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by himself will have significant repercussions within Bridgeport and across the State of Connecticut.

While the move toward mayoral control of boards of education has been far more limited than the Finch operation claimed during the recent campaign, the national “education reformers” have made it a high priority and have had a string of successes.  Bridgeport was widely expected to be their next big win.

But the “education reformers” were wall0pped yesterday as the voters of Bridgeport rejected their mayor and the City’s incumbent democratic apparatus.

The defeat was especially relevant since this year Connecticut found itself as one of the new battleground states in the effort to privatize America’s public education system.

As many of us watched in disbelief and disgust, the education reform debate began to take shape last February when Democratic Governor Malloy proposed the most anti-union, anti-teacher, “education reform” bill of any Democratic governor in the country.

In such an environment, Democratic Mayor Bill Finch’s charter revision effort was far more than simply a debate about whether Bridgeport should have an elected board of education or one appointed by the city’s mayor.

The battle was actually part of the broader charter school and privatization effort that is sweeping Connecticut and the nation.

In Bridgeport, the “Vote Yes” forces engaged in a historic effort and their corresponding level of campaign spending was truly unprecedented.

Taken together, Residents for a Better Bridgeport, StudentsFirst and Excel Bridgeport, a corporate sponsored education reform group,  appear to have spent more than half a million dollars to persuade Bridgeport voters to give up their right to choose  who should serve on the local Board of Education.

And vast sums of the money behind the “Vote Yes” campaign came from out-of-state organizations or from major Connecticut corporations, most of who would never get involved in a local squabble, if they didn’t believe that this battle was tied to important players and forces far beyond the Bridgeport City borders.

Despite the sophisticated and extensive campaign the “Vote Yes” forces implemented, all three of the major funders managed to engage in extensive campaign finance violations, actions that will mean that all three groups will probably face significant civil, or even criminal, fines, in the near future.

[In addition to the campaign finance complaint that I’ve already filed against Residents for a Better Bridgeport, I’ll be filing an updated complaint against that group, and corresponding complaints against Excel Bridgeport and StudentsFirst].

One of the most striking developments in the entire campaign was the arrival of Michelle Rhee’s national education reform advocacy organization, StudentsFirst, although here, in Connecticut, they’ve created a front-group called GNEPSA.  Just a couple of weeks before the Bridgeport vote Rhee dropped $100,000 into the effort to pass Finch’s proposal, and that doesn’t even count the tens of thousands more that they failed to reveal in their campaign finance reports.  New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, added his own $20,000 to the effort.

In addition, Rhee’s husband, a former NBA star, who presently serves as the Mayor of Sacramento, California, also came into Connecticut to join Mayor Finch and Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools, Paul Vallas, to push the anti-democracy proposal.

With yesterday’s defeat, the question on the minds of many observers now is what happens next in the effort to improve Bridgeport’s school system?

That is certainly a fair and important question, and both sides will have to commit themselves to working together, but the more important underlying question is really what will Mayor Finch do as the real issues and challenges facing Bridgeport’s schools become apparent?

For example, there still hasn’t been an investigation into how Bridgeport Superintendent Vallas was allowed to sign more than $12 million in illegal no-bid contracts.

Furthermore, the Board of Education has failed to discuss the fact that Bridgeport’s school budget is not balanced, as Superintendent Vallas has claimed, and a growing deficit will soon be appearing on the City’s books.

And finally, although neither Finch nor Vallas have acknowledged the issue, Bridgeport is facing serious financial penalties and repercussions due to their failure to meet the State of Connecticut’s minimum expenditure requirement law.

Equally interesting will be to see what happens next with the “education reformers.”  Rhee, Vallas and the rest of the national “reformers” have plenty of other irons in the fire and places to go where they can make money.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see many of them head for the state line, but regardless, the political and financial fallout of their failed policies and politics will land squarely on Mayor Finch and his administration.

With a democratically elected board of education in place, rather than an appointed board, the primary difference is that voters will now learn of the problems sooner and will, undoubtedly, be demanding answers.

With a board made up of democratically elected members, those board members will have to respond to those concerns, even if the Mayor would prefer that they duck the problems.

A Huge Victory for Public Education in Connecticut as Bridgeport Voters Shoot Down Attempt to Eliminate a Democratically Elected Board of Education

So many important victories tonight – but one of the biggest was right here in Connecticut.

The corporate “education reform” movement was stunned as the voters of Bridgeport stood up on behalf of public education and their democratic rights.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, “education reformers” and elite members of the corporate community spent a record amount of money trying to convince Bridgeport voters that it was in their best interests to give up their democratic rights to select members of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Finch, joined by many of Connecticut’s top Democratic elected officials, and education reformers like Michelle Rhee, Excel Bridgeport, ConnCAN, and Connecticut’s charter school leaders spent half a million dollars or more in a failed attempt to persuade voters that they should simply throw away their democratic rights and allow Mayor Finch to choose who would serve on the “citizen” board overseeing Bridgeport’s schools.

But what the education reformers and political elite failed to understand was that Bridgeport voters, like all Connecticut voters, believe in public schools, believe in our school teachers and believe in the unalienable right of self-governance.  In addition, the people of Bridgeport, like the people of Connecticut have had more than their fair share of politicians who seek to use their offices to provide financial benefits to their friends and supporters.

Many of the people and groups supporting Mayor Finch’s effort even violated Connecticut’s campaign finance laws in their wanton power grab.

And the people’s anger will only grow as they realize that much of the money that paid for all the mailings and television ads to support Finch’s plan was donated by national education reformers like Michelle Rhee ($100,000 and counting), Mayor Michael Bloomberg ($20,000), and Connecticut businesses that should never have diverted funds to this anti-democracy initiative.

Despite these difficult economic times, United Illuminating, Bridgeport Hospital, St. Vincent Medical Center, Aquarion Water Company and Harbor Yard, among others, all gave money to the Political Action Committee trying to take away the rights of Bridgeport voters.  And each of those companies is funded, at least in part, by Bridgeport residents and Connecticut taxpayers.

Among the donors behind Finch’s effort included;

Bridgeport Hospital which donated $14,422.90

St. Vincent Medical Center which donated $14,400

United Illuminating which donated $10,000

Aquarion Water Company which donated $14,000

Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment which donated $14,442.90

And the list goes on and on…