Bridgeport Elects School Board; World doesn’t end…

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Following yesterday’s special election in Bridgeport, the reign of Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education has come to end.  Bridgeport now has a democratically elected board of education.

The democratically elected board will be made up of six Democrats and three members of the Working Families Party.

As reported in the Connecticut Post, “In all, there were nine candidates vying for four open seats in an election that was not only historic but quite possibly the last school board election if voters accept a proposed charter change in November that would put the selection of the school board in the hands of the mayor.”

In a City where almost two out of every three voters are registered as Democrats, the Democratic leadership seemed particularly overjoyed with the results.

“The people have spoken,” Democrat Kenneth Moales told the CT Post

“The kids won the election. This is a victory for them,” added Democrat Herman Illingworth.

And Mayor Bill Finch said, “the people ratified the new direction that Paul Vallas and I have taken the schools in Bridgeport, and I think it bodes well for the charter change in the fall.”

Bodes well for the Mayor’s desire to do away with a democratically elected board and replace it with one in which he gets to appoint the members?

It is interesting that no one within the Democratic machine observed that the real outcome was that democracy worked.

The people had the opportunity to select who they wanted on their board of education and they chose 6 Democrats and 3 members of the Working Families Party.

The world didn’t come to an end…

The Democrats still control the Board of Education…

And there will now be some appropriate balance, so the people will benefit from a more open and honest debate and discussion about the challenges that face Bridgeport’s schools…

It was almost as if Mayor Finch and the Democrats were surprised or disappointed that democracy worked.

…And the Mayor’s reaction was to say that it bodes well for taking away people’s democratic rights?

Hey Mr. Mayor, how about observing that this is the United States of America, we believe in democracy, and the you look forward to working with a democratically elected board as you seek to provide the children of Bridgeport with the quality education they need and deserve…

 

Bridgeport Election Tuesday: What Excel Bridgeport failed to point out

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This Tuesday, September 4th, the voters of Bridgeport can finally go to the polls to select members of a democratically elected board of education.

This new board will replace the illegal board of education that has been running Bridgeport’s school for more than a year.  It is the illegal board that hired Paul Vallas and his entourage of outside consultants.

Excel Bridgeport is the group that pushed for the state’s illegal takeover and has been working hard to take away the democratic rights of Bridgeport’s citizens by backing the move to completely eliminate an elected board and let the Mayor of the City appoint his own Board of Education.

Recently Excel Bridgeport passed out flyers instructing Bridgeport voters what to consider when voting on Tuesday.

The business-backed group left off some key questions.

So, when thinking about whether or not TO ELECT the three people who have been serving on Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education, here are a few other questions voters might want to consider;

The three candidates who are running for the new board but were members of the illegal board are:

Kenneth Moales Jr. (Democrat)

Hernan Illingworth (Democrat)

Jacqueline Kelleher (Democrat)

  • Why did these members allow Paul Vallas to sign close to $1 million in no-bid contracts to bring in his friends and colleagues to run Bridgeport schools?  Many of these people actually work for Vallas’ private consulting group, “The Paul Vallas Group.”  They at least could have required competitive bidding to ensure taxpayer’s and parents got the people at the best price.
  • Why did these members allow Paul Vallas to sign over $12 million in no-bid contracts for various goods and services include the new textbooks, some of which didn’t even meet the school’s curriculum?
  • Why did these members fail to put some type of limitation on Paul Vallas’ outside consulting? Just this summer his company signed a $1 million contract to work in Illinois and an $18 million contract to work in Indianapolis.  Plus Vallas also announced that his company was partnering with a multi-million dollar company and Vallas continued his existing consulting work.  All the time pulling down his $229,000 salary from Bridgeport.
  • Why did these members allow Vallas to add three new rounds of standardized testing?  Now Bridgeport’s student will have to go through four major sets of standardized tests, plus all their regular tests.  Less time learning and more time taking tests is certainly not how to improve Bridgeport’s schools.
  • Why did these members fail to speak up, at least about the appearance of a conflict of interest, when the family member of one illegal Board of Education member “won” hundreds of thousands of dollars in new contracts for early care education?
  • Why did these members fail to speak out when Vallas developed a budget that cut Special Education more than any other area?  Certainly the parents of Bridgeport had a right to hear more about cuts to these vital programs so that they could judge for themselves whether cutting resources for children needing special education services was the right thing to do.
  • Why did these members fail to speak up when the business community only raised a portion of what they said they were going to donate to help Bridgeport’s schools?  Over and over business leaders said they were going to cover Vallas’ salary and the consultants that he brought in, but last check they barely covered one-third of those costs.

The list of bad choices and mistakes Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education made goes on and on, and yet three candidates actually say they should be elected BECAUSE they served on Bridgeport’s illegal Board.

Maybe their motto should be; 

We didn’t ask the tough and important questions before, and if you give us more time overseeing Bridgeport’s schools, we’ll continue to NOT ask the touch and important questions.

Are You Kidding? Vallas’ standardized testing obsession means 3 rounds of tests plus CMTs.

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Forget about the concept that our schools need to devote more time to learning;

Paul Vallas, “education reformer extraordinaire,” and Bridgeport’s, $229,000, part-time, interim superintendent of schools, has announced an unprecedented standardized testing assault on Bridgeport’s students and their teachers.

In an announcement yesterday, Team Vallas informed administrators that in addition to the two weeks of Connecticut Mastery testing that is required by the Connecticut State Department of Education, Vallas is ordering that all students in grades 3-11 complete three additional rounds of standardized testing.

While “Education Reformers” are fond of claiming that they support extending the school year and the school day, Vallas’ absurd action will significantly reduce the number of hours students have to actually learn.

Instead, even more teaching to the test will take place.

According to Vallas’ directive, Bridgeport’s standardized testing program will include a round of Fall Testing that will take place from October 1st through October 10th, Winter Testing, which will run from January 7th through January 16th and Spring Testing which will go from May 28th through June 6th     This is in addition to the Connecticut Mastery Tests which run for two weeks in March.

It is not clear how much the massive standardized testing effort will cost, but if history is any guide, we can assume that the company providing and grading these standardized tests got their contract through a no-bid process.

Ironically, Vallas provided Bridgeport’s outgoing illegal Board of Education with a budget update earlier this week, but he somehow forgot or failed to mention this massive new “initiative” that will undoubtedly cost “big bucks.”

However, what is clear is that when it comes to standardized testing, Team Vallas is not only on the wrong path but headed in the wrong direction.   There is growing recognition that standardized testing is not a good measure of student abilities and can actually be detrimental to the learning process.

In Texas, the birthplace of George W. Bush’, No Child Left Behind Act, which introduced massive standardized testing, school districts, parents and even the business community are demanding less testing and more learning.  To date, 593 Texas school districts, representing   70% of all Texas’ students, have endorsed a resolution demanding that state officials, “reexamine public school accountability systems” and “develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which does not require extensive standardized testing” and “more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning.”  The Texas PTA, various chambers of commerce, and principals’ associations have also signed onto the Texas anti-testing movement.

But the testing craze is alive and well here in Connecticut.

With Bridgeport’s school system in desperate need of additional resources and a real commitment to putting the city’s education program on the right path, Vallas stays the course with his dedication to hiring more out-of-state- consultants, purchasing new products through no-bid contracts, and now derailing the effort to revitalize the quality of education by turning the schools into nothing more than “testing factories.”

When you hear that Connecticut’s taxpayers are giving Bridgeport more than $168,000,000, a year, to cover the vast majority of the City’s education costs, you can now thank Team Vallas for flushing even more of that money down the drain.

***Proving that there are school administrators who “get it,” Diane Ravitch has a blog today about John Kuhn.  Kuhn is the superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in Texas and Ravitch calls him a ” hero superintendent” and someone who has ” been a voice of reason and at the same time an exemplar of passion and courage since he burst onto the national stage a year ago at the national Save Our Schools rally in Washington, D.C.”   For Diane’s full blog go to http://dianeravitch.net/2012/08/31/our-first-hero-superintendent/

 

Anyone? Will any Bridgeport official stand up for the children with special needs in your city?

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Mayor Bill Finch, the Bridgeport City Council and Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education all voted for the education budget developed by Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s interim superintendent of schools.

As previously noted here at Wait, What?, the biggest cut in the entire Bridgeport school budget was for the funds needed to support Bridgeport students who require special education services.

After the issue was raised and school administrators faced growing concerns about these significant budget cuts, Team Vallas issued a memo explaining that they had everything under control.

In the August 22 memo, Team Vallas explained;

  • There was a $1 million dollar budget cut that came from eliminating 14 special education teachers who were no longer needed.  By way of an explanation, they memo explained that Vallas had developed an “updated formula for allocation of special education teachers and paraprofessionals that is consistent with IEP mandates and takes into consideration student needs. The formula revision is built on a focused realignment of resources, designed to fiscally support the proper staffing levels to meet the individualized instructional needs of our students.”

In English this means that each remaining special education teacher would have more students and more students with special education needs would be placed into regular classes.

  • Second, there was a $2.6 million dollar cut by taking some of the most high-need students out of their existing placements and returning them into the Bridgeport school system.  The Vallas memo said that, “the district has established new, specialized programs in various schools to accommodate the return of special education students from out of district settings, with parental consent and full compliance with all mandated special education procedures.”

So, according to Vallas, as a result of the new, specialized programs that have been created, about one or every five students placed in special, out of district programs, would now be returned to Bridgeport schools.

But today, on the first day of school, we learn that the Bridgeport School System has suddenly started advertising for a number of special education assistants and therapeutic support facilitators.

They STARTED advertising for the positions now?

But Vallas and his staff said that everything was already in place!

Let’s face it.

If Team Vallas had been telling the truth about where things stood, these positions would have been filed long ago, the new employees would have already been trained and they would now be working to assist students will disabilities.

The children who need special education services and their parents deserve better.

In fact, all the parents and children of Bridgeport deserve better.

For one thing, they deserve to be told the truth.

But the question is; will Bridgeport’s officials step forward and ensure that their citizens start getting the truth or will they continue to allow the lies and double-speak to continue?

UPDATE: Bridgeport’s Assault on Special Education: Time for Commissioner Pryor to intervene…

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Following up on Wait, What?’s earlier post today about Bridgeport’s massive cuts to special education services;

When it comes to special education services, the State Board of Education’s mission statement could not be clearer.  According to that statement, the State Board “believes each student is unique and needs an educational environment that provides for, and accommodates, his or her strengths and areas of needed improvement. The Board also believes that a unified and coordinated continuum of educational opportunities and supports serves and benefits all students.”

The State Board is aided in this task by the State Advisory Council (SAC) on Special Education, a group of dedicated professionals and advocates who work throughout the year to make sure stakeholder concerns are heard and addressed.

While the laws and regulations related to special education are complex, the Connecticut Department of Education’s Parents Guide to Special Education in Connecticut, begins with a fundamental introduction to the issues.

The guide notes that, “education laws and regulations are meant to protect a student with a disability to ensure that he or she receives the services and assistance that may be necessary to make meaningful progress in his or her education program. In Connecticut, the special education system is based on the federal special education law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) and it’s implementing regulations, in combination with the state’s special education law, Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-76a to 10-76h, inclusive and the implementing regulations.”

One need only go to the website for the State Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education (BSE) Resources to see that Connecticut’s special education programs are guided by an extensive set of standards that are based on a number of federal and state laws.  Furthermore, it is the state that has the primary responsibility to ensure that special education services are properly provided. (See http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2678&Q=320730)

Bridgeport’s Assault on Special Education:

As we now know, Bridgeport’s $229,000, part-time, interim, superintendent of schools and Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education have adopted a $225.2 million operating budget for FY 2013.  The budget details were finally released August 27, 2012.

The single biggest cut in this year’s school budget is for programs intended to support students who need special education services.

The two part cut includes; a $1 million cut that eliminates 14 special education teachers from Bridgeport’s school-based special education programs and a cut of more than $2.6 million dollars (or almost 20%) in the funds that are used to place those students with the greatest needs in appropriate settings, outside of the district.

To achieve these savings, Vallas will significantly increase the teacher to student ratio for those students with disabilities who are getting services in the Bridgeport School System.

In addition, Team Vallas must be assuming that approximately 20%, or one out of every five students, who have been placed in a specialized setting, will be moved back into Bridgeport school system.

After speaking with special education experts around the state, and reviewing various reports on the State Department of Education’s website, it seems apparent that no school district has ever attempted to make such a dramatic reduction in their special education budget, especially over such a short period of time.

By cutting $1 million from school based special education programs and $2.6 million in tuition payments for students who have been placed in alternative settings, the impact on student’s IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) will be extraordinary.

There is simply no way that Bridgeport has held the requisite PPTs or receive parental permission to modify the number of IEPs that would be needed to allow such a massive cut in services.

As parents of students with disabilities know, IEPs must not only be extremely specific but must include appropriate monitoring, as well as, reporting on each student’s progress.

It is absurd to think that the budget cuts that Vallas and the illegal Board of Education have made will not negatively impact existing IEPs.  At the very least, new PPTs would be needed to identify whether the steps contained in the IEPs can still be achieved in an environment with 14 fewer special education teachers and 20% of the outplaced students returning to the school system.

The lack of communication and transparency that Vallas and the illegal board have engaged in makes it clear that they are unwilling to fulfill their legal and moral obligation to Bridgeport’s special education students.

That leaves no option but for Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and the State Board of Education to immediately move to put the Bridgeport changes on hold and investigate whether the changes will lead to a violation of federal and state laws.

Anything short of immediate action not only places students needing special education services at risk, but leaves the state open to a variety of major lawsuits that could cost Connecticut taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Commissioner Pryor, your intervention is needed, before it is too late.

Bridgeport‘s “Official” School Budget Finally Released: “Students with disabilities” cut the most;

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Last week, we learned that the school budget that was included within Mayor Bill Finch’s proposed City Budget, was not, in fact, the official school budget.

Furthermore, the budget that the City Council held hearings on, was not, in fact, the official school budget.

We were even told that the budget that the City Council approved and has been posted on the City’s website was not, in fact, the official school budget.

According to Team Vallas, the Board of Education and the public are only now, two months after the start of the fiscal year, seeing the complete, official, education budget, for the first time.

That budget, aptly named the “2012-13 Operating Budget and Grants Budget,” was posted on the Bridgeport Board of Education website earlier today and will apparently, be a topic of discussion at tonight’s illegal Board of Education meeting.

Upon review of the “official” education budget, it remains apparent that the largest cut in the $225.2 million dollar budget are for funds allocated for those students who are receiving special education services.

Although there is no indication that number of students with disabilities has declined, Paul Vallas and his team have cut 14 Special Education teachers from Bridgeport’s school budget.

While the overall school budget is going up, this million dollar cut will reduce the number of teachers helping students who need special education services by 7 percent.  The only explanation that Team Vallas has articulated is that the savings are a result of an “updated allocation formula for resources/inclusion classes.”

A second, and even larger cut, has been made in the allocation of funds for students whose special education needs are so great, that they have been placed in alternative schools or other learning environments.

Bridgeport’s “official” education budget cuts more than $2.6 million dollars, or almost 20%, of all the funds used to place students with the greatest needs.

This means that Team Vallas is assuming that approximately 20%, or one out of every five students who have been placed in specialized setting, will be moved back into Bridgeport school system.

Such a change would require that Bridgeport revise each student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program), a process that is both complex, lengthy and requires full participation by all of the individuals and entities that are responsible for determining each child’s educational and social needs.

There is no indication that Team Vallas as begun such a massive rewrite of student’s IEPs or even that such a charade could be pulled off.

Not only does the “official” budget reduce the tuition for out-of-district placements by $2.6 million, but there appears to be no attempt to provide the additional resources that would be needed to care for those children, if they were moved back into the Bridgeport schools.

Meanwhile, the official budget contains numerous other changes that should raise concerns about the level of accuracy and honesty within the budget document.

For example, although the private account that was created to pay for Vallas’ salary has been drained and closed, the new budget assumes that the Fairfield County Foundation will, once again, donate $126,000 to help cover Vallas’ salary this year.  There is, however, no mention that the business community will provide the other $300,000 that they donated toward Bridgeport’s “turnaround” this year.

Not surprisingly, there was not a reduction to every line item in the budget.

The single largest percentage increase in the budget?

Well, that honor goes to the costs for outside counsel and additional lawyers.  The budget for additional legal assistance jumped 31 percent, bringing the total to over half a million dollars.

Last but not least, special notice should be given to the City’s pledge to increase funding for its schools.

When the year began, Mayor Finch spoke of a historic commitment to increase Bridgeport’s contribution to its schools by more than $10 million dollars.

By April, when the Mayor proposed his new budget, he said, “I am proposing a historic increase in education in the FY 2012-13 budget.  The City will provide the Board of Education with a $7 million increase, coupled with an expected $3.5 million from Governor Malloy. This is a $10.5 million increase in funding for the Board of Education for FY 2012-13. I believe this increase is necessary to reform our schools, and create an education system that can fairly educate the children of Bridgeport in this highly competitive world.”

The City Council then slashed Mayor Finch’s request by $2 million.

In the end, the City’s “new commitment” to their schools was down to $5 million.

And of that amount, $3,649,575 is actually the legally required increased due to the state’s Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) law, a system that forces towns to maintain a basic minimum level of funding.

All the hoopla aside, Mayor Finch and the Bridgeport City Council’s “major commitment to education” amounted to less than $1.3 million in new funding, an “historic” increase of .6 percent.

Hopefully those who are attending tonight’s last meeting of Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education will hear more about this “official” Bridgeport schools budget and can pass along their news to wait, what? readers.

News Flash: Is Team Vallas Imploding? Is Sandra Kase, his #2, Leaving?

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Rumors of a shake-up and changes at the top are swirling, as Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education prepares to meet tonight, for the last time.

A democratically elected board of education will finally be chosen on September 4th

Leading the list of rumors is the question whether Sandra Kase, Vallas’ number two, is leaving her position as Bridgeport’s Chief Administrative Officer.  Kase, who bills at $900 a day or more than $220,000 a year has been Bridgeport’s primary, day-to-day, administrator.  She has also been filling in for Vallas when he is away with his own consulting business in Haiti, Illinois, Indiana and Dallas.

Kase, who also has a consulting company, has been on the job in Bridgeport since January 1, 2012.  Less than a month ago, Bridgeport’s illegal board extended Kase’s contract through July 1, 2013, after Vallas demanded that he would only stay if contracts for his team were also extended.  Vallas regularly claims that he cut central office expenses by one-third, but has never clarified how that number is impacted by the nearly $1 million in no-bid contracts that he has signed for consultants, many  of whom have been retained to do central office functions.

With the school years starting, problems with the Vallas/Kase strategy are becoming increasingly apparent.

For example, after signing a 5 year, $10 million contract for new textbooks, and a separate contract with an Illinois company to barcode those textbooks, many have not been bar-coded and therefore can’t be given to students to check out when school begins.

Kase’s involvement in day-to-day operations can be seen through-out the system.  Another prime example is that from January through April, the law firm of Durant, Nichols, et. al., billed the Bridgeport Board of Education over $228,000.  Those invoices reference Kase’s name well over 50 times, and that is just one of the law firms the Vallas administration has been using.

As of now, the changes to the central office aren’t clear, but additional information may be presented to the Board at tonight’s meeting.

“Only in Bridgeport”

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Only in Bridgeport is the name of a blog written by Lennie Grimaldi.  It is also the name of his first book.  Grimaldi, a journalist turned public relations expert, writes about “how things REALLY work” in the Park City (aka Bridgeport).  For many Connecticut politicians, his phrase, “only in Bridgeport,” has come to represent a style of politics from a by-gone era, and era in which patronage was alive and well and “the end justified the means.”

The “Bridgeport Machine’s” present power grab to change the City’s charter by eliminating a democratically elected board of education, and replacing it with one appointed by the mayor, is a tribute to the recognition that if you want to control most of the public funds and jobs,  you need to “own” the school board and the administrators who report to that board.

If the goal is power and the control of resources, real democracy has a tendency to get in the way.

As noted before, since taking office, Mayor Bill Finch, a subset of Democrats and members of the Bridgeport business community have been angling to get rid of Bridgeport’s requirement that the Board of Education by elected by the people.

What they want is to get the voters of Bridgeport to pass a charter change that allows Bridgeport’s Mayor to appoint the members of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

It is a simple enough question, if asked honestly, but of course, the goal is winning and honesty may very well be an impediment.

So the Bridgeport Charter Revision Commission, a group appointed and controlled by the Mayor and City Council, worked over the last year to develop the exact wording to put before the voters.

Their solution is to put the following question before the voters of Bridgeport in the November election;

“Shall the city of Bridgeport approve and adopt the charter changes as recommended by the Charter Revision Commission and approved by the City Council, including education governance reforms?”

In George Orwell’s book 1984, Ray Bradbury’ Fahrenheit 451, or Franz Kafka’s The Trial, the people might very well know that the phrase “educational governance reforms” actually means the government is seeking to strip the citizens of Bridgeport their American, Constitutional, and Democratic Rights of Self-Governance.

But this fall, just to be sure, the Mayor, his inner circle, and the members of his Charter Revision Commission have made it clear that they are going with a ballot question that is totally and completely incoherent.

A clear, concise and fair vote on the subject isn’t as important to the Bridgeport Machine as is winning, and thus the voters won’t be voting on whether the Mayor should appoint the schools board, they will be voting on whether Bridgeport should “adopt the charter changes as recommended by the Charter Revision Commission and approved by the City council, including education governance reforms.”

Considering Connecticut’s Attorney General, Secretary of the State, and Governor, all ran on a platform of protecting people’s legal and democratic rights, it would be nice to think that they would intervene with a law suit saying that the Bridgeport Machine is unfairly and illegally taking away people’s constitutionally guaranteed right to know what they are voting for.  But, then again, if the “end justifies the means,” and silence leads to future machine support for these statewide officials, silence and a lack of action may very well rule the day.

For additional information check out these two editorials from the Connecticut Post.  Friday’s CT Post editorial:  Read more: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Change-wording-on-charter-revision-3813430.php#ixzz24fGNxnwT and Sunday’s Commentary Piece by Michael Daley, CT Post’s editorial page editor:  http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Michael-J-Daly-Voters-will-make-the-ultimate-3813428.php

Did that Democrat say he is for school vouchers?

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One of the more incredible comments at a recent debate among the candidates running in Bridgeport’s September 4th special election to select a democratically elected board of education came from Democrat Kenneth Moales, who is also an incumbent on the Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education.

According to the Connecticut Post, Moales “supports school vouchers, and said they are neither anti-union nor anti-public schools.”

Ah…. False on both points Mr. Moales.

People support vouchers for a number of reasons.  In fact, many people support vouchers exactly because they are anti-public schools (and anti-union).

As Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading voice on behalf of public education recently wrote, “bear in mind that public education is level-funded, so all these millions for vouchers and charters and online schooling and tutoring will come right out of the public school budget, making classes more overcrowded, closing libraries, shutting down services for students that need them.”

And the evidence is increasingly clear; Vouchers do not create different outcomes.

A recent study of the privately funded voucher program in New York City found that it had “no significant impacts”

Studies of the voucher programs in Washington D.C., Cleveland and Milwaukee also found that there was “no evidence of gains in test scores.”

The official DC study determined that, “there is no conclusive evidence that the [vouchers] affected student achievement.”  After four years, the students who used the voucher program, “had reading and math test scores that were statistically similar to those who were not offered scholarships.”

But the facts haven’t gotten in the way of Republican Mitt Romney.

When he released his position paper on education, “A Chance for Every Child: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Restoring the Promise of American Education,” the number one provision was “subsidizing parents who want to send their child to a private or religious school and encouraging the private sector to operate schools.”

In fact, Romney promised to expand the Washington DC school voucher program even though the evidence shows it didn’t raise test scores.

In covering a speech Romney gave about education policy, the Washington Times wrote, that Romney believes “unions are the chief impediment to education reform.”

Romney understands that vouchers are, in fact, anti-public schools and anti-union.  That is the very reason he is going to use vouchers to try to get conservatives to vote for him.

Why on earth would the Bridgeport Democrats nominate a candidate who supports vouchers?

In the meantime, Bridgeport’s Democratic voters will have to look elsewhere for people who actually support the true principles of the Democratic Party.

What is Paul Vallas doing to Bridgeport’s Special Education Students?

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When Bridgeport’s City Council approved this year’s $511.1 million city budget, it included a core school budget of $215.8 million.  That is the same amount that was budgeted last year.

Last year’s school budget was balanced, in part, from a series of budget cuts proposed by Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s $229,000, part-time, interim superintendent of schools, and approved by Bridgeport’s illegal board of education.  The final gap was covered by a $3.5 million dollar forgivable loan from the State of Connecticut.

A budget is a type of a law.  It is a blueprint of how the public’s money will be spent.

Although this year’s school budget is for the same amount as last year’s, some spending categories have been increased and others have been decreased.

To date, the focus has been on Vallas’ claim that he “cut” one-third of the school system’s “central office” costs, although considering he’s brought in a cadre of high-priced consultants, signed numerous no-bid contracts for new products and software systems, and pushed costs down to the school level, it is not clear whether he really has or has not cut out a third of the central operation.

But there is something that is very clear about the new budget;

Paul Vallas proposed, and the members of the illegal Board of Education adopted, a budget which includes an incredible, shocking and unprecedented attack on Bridgeport’s special education programs.

That cut was included in Mayor Bill Finch’s budget and approved by Bridgeport’s City Council.

Bridgeport’s new city budget eliminates 90 percent of the money needed to pay the tuition costs for the placement of special education students in what has been determined as the most appropriate environment for these children.

Last year, Bridgeport spent $39.8 million on costs associated with educating and supporting its special education students.

This year, Bridgeport’s approved school budget reduces that number to $18.9 million

That is a cut of $14 million dollars, and almost all of it comes from ending the placement of special education students who need services beyond what the school system can provide.

Vallas and the board cut the funds appropriated for out-of-district tuition and support services from $15.0 million to $1.4 million (see this year’s budget – link below).

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other federal and Connecticut laws, students who face special challenges must be provided educational opportunities that maximize their potential and provide them with an education in the least restrictive, and most appropriate, environment.

As parents of students with special needs know, the school system develops an Individualized Education Program (called an IEP) that is designed to address each individual child’s needs.  In some cases, that includes taking specific students out of a traditional school setting and enrolling them in special schools or programs.

The Vallas budget removes the money to send these children to the special schools and programs that they need and deserve.

In a truly stunning defense of his approach, Vallas wrote in a July 2012, District Financial update, “…the district has continued to find itself in precarious financial condition largely as a result of…burdensome contracts with external vendors which disproportionately allocated 10% of the entire budget to just 1.5% of our students, unfairly shortchanging the majority of our students and their teachers.”

Publicly pitting Bridgeport’s special education students against “the majority of our students and their teachers” is reprehensible.

Worse, instead of recommending a thoughtful effort to review and revise individualized education plans to see if less expensive options exist, Vallas simply ends tuition payments completely for these students.

And at the same time, the school budget reflects NO meaningful and corresponding increase in the number of special education teachers and professionals that would be needed if Bridgeport shifted all those special education students back into city’s traditional schools.

Not only is the plan Vallas has proposed and the illegal Board of Education adopted immoral, but, in speaking with special education experts, the move would almost certainly be ruled illegal.  IEPs for every child would have needed to take place and be changed  to achieve the budget savings; students would have had to have all been moved as of July 1, 2012.

Furthermore, the underlying problem with the budget that Vallas proposed and Mayor Finch signed, is that if Bridgeport’s special education students are not pulled out of their specialized programs, Bridgeport’s taxpayers are facing a $14 million deficit in their school budget.

An alternative scenario is that Team Vallas knew perfectly well that they couldn’t cut 90% of the special education funds for out-of-district placement, but wrote that “savings” into the budget in order to make it look like the budget was balanced.

Either situation is more than bad.

As noted, pitting special education students against the rest of the budget and proposing to remove students from their educational settings, a move that is probably illegal, is definitely not the answer to Bridgeport’s challenges.

But to knowingly adopt a budget that is $14 million out of balance is also bad news, especially for the taxpayers of Bridgeport who will have to pick up the costs associated with this type of fiscal irresponsibility.

If you run into anyone on Team Vallas, you might want to ask them, what are they doing to Bridgeport’s Special Education students?

If you run into a member of Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education, you might want to ask them, why did they vote for a budget that is so off and so off track.

A copy of Bridgeport’s approved budget can be found here:  http://www.bridgeportct.gov/OfficeofPolicyMgmt/Documents/2013%20Adopted/BOE%20all%202013.pdf

Vallas addresses the special education issue in his District Financial Update which can be found here: http://www.bridgeportedu.com/docs/HomePage/2012-2013/BPSDistrictFinancialUpdate.pdf

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