Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch Says: Get Democracy out of Board of Education!

After working for more than a year, Mayor Bill Finch has finally succeeded in ensuring that the voters of Bridgeport will have the opportunity to change their City Charter, this November, and wipe out Bridgeport’s democratically elected board of education once and for all.

According to Finch, the initiative’s strongest supporter, shifting control of Bridgeport’s Schools away from democratically elected citizens and, instead, giving the power and control to him, is the best way to get “adult politics out of education.”

In today’s story, written by the CT Post and Hearst Newspaper’s Brian Lockhart, Finch claims that giving him and his appointees control of the school budget and the responsibility to hire top school administrators is, “probably the most important thing the citizens can do … to return civility to the governance of our children’s education and get adult politics out of it.”

While a handful of mayors around the state, including the mayors of Stamford, New Haven and Hartford have all made similar and success power-grabs to control the largest part of a communities’ local budget, virtually every other one of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns has remained committed to the notion that local education decisions should be made by locally elected citizens.

In a telling comment, one Bridgeport Councilman urged his “colleagues to remain engaged” in the effort to pass the charter changes because “the opposition will be working very hard to defeat it.”

The opposition?

Does he mean the people who believe in that pesky notion that here, in the United States, we’ve dedicated ourselves to the cumbersome system of self-governance and democracy for more than 236 years?

Adding insult to injury, the Mayor and his City Council even worded the charter change resolution in such a way as to ensure that no reasonable voter could possibly understand that was at stake or what they were voting on.

Instead of having a simple vote on whether citizens want the Mayor or a democratically elected board of education to set education policy in Bridgeport, the Finch administration played with the wording of the resolution to the point where Bridgeport’s voters will be asked whether they support or oppose “education governance reforms.”

“Education Governance Reforms?”

Forget America’s history of fighting to preserve democratic ideals.  Forget the hundreds of thousands of Americans who made the supreme sacrifice to help preserve those ideals.  Let’s even dismiss that as Americans, we believe in the importance of passing on to every generation the belief that, in the United States, citizens have a right to control government and not the other way around.

Instead, let’s accept Mayor Finch’s theory, for a moment, that by allowing him to make all the decisions about Bridgeport’s public school system, the children will be better off because he will be able to take “adult politics out of education.”

So let’s get this right.  Bill Finch should be in charge of Bridgeport’s schools because he will take “adult politics out of education?”

There is a reason for the phrase, democracy is messy and cumbersome, but the alternative is even worse.

Read the full story here: http://m.ctpost.com/connpost/db_43463/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=Pz9ckZ6s&full=true#display

Paul Vallas knows the price of no-bid contracts…

Vallas need only think back twelve years ago, when The Chicago Tribune led with an editorial that began with the headline; “Appearances Matter, Mr. Vallas.”

And yet, despite that memory, it has become increasingly clear that Bridgeport’s Superintendent of Schools doesn’t fully understand or appreciate that fact that the competitive bidding of contracts is an important safeguard for public funds, not to mention the fact that Connecticut and Bridgeport have strict competitive bidding requirements that must be met.

Since Vallas arrived in Bridgeport last December, he has signed or authorized at least twenty contracts, which taken together, put taxpayers on the hook for more than $13 million.

According to state and local laws and regulations, it appears that at least eighteen of the twenty contracts needed to be put out for full competitive bids.  It is hard to tell from the information that has been provided, but two of the new contracts might have only needed a competitive proposal process.

In any case, none of these contracts appear to have been handled appropriately.

What is particularly shocking is that more than a decade ago, Paul Vallas learned the hard way that failing to properly bid contracts can have significant consequences.

On August 3, 2000, the Chicago Tribune skewered Vallas for failing to put a key contract out to bid.

The Tribune’s editorial laid out the facts by beginning with the following description:

“Four years ago, the Chicago Public Schools busing system was headed the wrong direction down a one-way street.  Bus contractors were running up millions in penalties for a litany of safety violations, from malfunctioning radios to missing fire extinguishers. They also had been overbilling school administrators to the tune of $2 million in one year.

Then the system crashed.

During the first days of the 1996 school year, a sudden shortage of qualified bus drivers left thousands of elementary school children stranded at bus stops, dropped off hours late or stuck in schools at the end of the day.”

Paul Vallas was the CEO of the Chicago School System at the time and as part of a broader privatization effort and in order to “stabilize” the situation, Vallas gave a no-bid contract to a company called Vancom/TransPar to manage Chicago’s $100 million school bus operation.

Only later was it discovered that Vallas chose Vancom based on the recommendation of his father-in-law, Dean Koldenhoven, the mayor of Palos Heights, Illinois (a small city just Southwest of Chicago.)

Vancom’s owner, Terry Van Der Aa, was not only a family friend but he owned the largest family-owned school bus company in the United states

But it was what happened next that got the Tribune’s editorial writers fully engaged.

As they wrote, “Fine–so far… But then Vallas helped get that contract extended for Vancom/TransPar, again without putting it out for bid. This is where he should have paused to think.”

The editorial observed, “Even if it wasn’t a sweetheart deal, Vallas created the impression it walked and quacked like one. He personally negotiated the deal–worth $6.1 million over the last 31/2 years–and ushered it through school board approval. Maybe other vendors would not have been as qualified, but they should have had the chance to try.”

The Tribune was particularly clear about their objection.

To them and to any reasonable person, the issue was not whether Vancom did or did not do a good job.  The issue was that public officials have an obligation to protect public dollars and that means utilizing a competitive bid process when it is required.

In the Vallas/Vancom case, the Tribune wrote that, “A report prepared for CPS [Chicago Public Schools] Inspector General Maribeth Vander Weele found that busing costs increased 13 percent–$11 million–over the last three years, despite a 3 percent decline in the number of students needing transportation.”  The Inspector General’s study claimed that the higher costs was the result of “an inefficient routing system that has some students riding alone to school, underused computer routing software and outdated street and traffic data.”

In his defense, Vallas had his own study done which concluded that the contract actually saved the City $17 million.

But, considering the obligation Vallas had to taxpayers, his point is irrelevant.

Now, fast-forward to Bridgeport, Connecticut and the year 2012.

When confronted with questions about his decision to hire an array of consultants, many of whom worked for The Vallas Group, his private consulting company, Vallas has articulated a similar defense.  According to Vallas, Bridgeport is coming out ahead, because although the consultants are being paid $500 to $900 a day, the City doesn’t have to pay for their health insurance and other benefits.

But of course, regardless of his claim, the Chicago Tribune was right twelve years ago and the concerns being raised now are equally correct.

We have competitive bidding laws for a reason.  As the Tribune wrote, “Appearances Matter, Mr. Vallas.” And perhaps, even more to the point, failing to properly bid public contracts is a serious legal violation here in Connecticut.

So the question remains, when will Mayor Finch or Governor Malloy step forward and make sure that Connecticut and Bridgeport’s laws and regulations are being followed?

What are Mayor Finch and Governor Malloy going to do about Paul Vallas…?

Today’s Connecticut Post has an extraordinary article about Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s Superintendent of Schools.  Unfortunately the Page One story is not on-line, but as soon as it is, you’ll be able to find a link here.

Wait, What? readers may recall two blog posts a few days ago that revealed that Paul Vallas had hired a number of consultants to help him in Bridgeport.  Most, if not all of these people work for his private company, The Vallas Group, or have worked with him in his previous positions as the CEO of the Chicago, Philadelphia or New Orleans school systems.  See:  http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/08/02/will-no-one-stand-up-for-the-taxpayers-of-bridgeport/ and http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/07/31/paul-vallas-and-bridgeports-illegal-board-of-education-the-law-applies-to-you-too/

If these contracts are allowed to stand, “Team Vallas” will be costing Connecticut and Bridgeport taxpayers close to $1 million dollars.

In addition to hiring numerous consultants, Vallas has also signed nearly a dozen new contracts with vendors for various products.

Together, these contracts commit Bridgeport to nearly $12 million dollars in new expenditures over the next few years.

Introducing the issue, the Connecticut Post story notes, “when the state appointed city school board hired Paul Vallas as its interim schools superintendent last December, his job was to fix the district financially and academically and to fix it fast.”

The Connecticut Post goes on to add that over the past six months, Vallas “brought a group of staff, consultants and outside vendors with him… [a] team of independent contractors, who, in some cases, replaced existing central office staff.”

And, in nearly every case, the consultants and vendors Vallas hired have worked directly for or with him in the past.  In fact, as noted, a number of the individuals he hired or retained actually work for Vallas’ private consulting business.

Vallas responded to the Connecticut Post by saying, “suffice to say, given the financial, operational and academic failures of the system, I think some changes were in order.”

What Vallas fails to address is that the issue isn’t whether “changes were in order” but whether he was following the laws and regulations that governed his actions.

As Wait, What? readers will recall, it became clear a few days ago that none of the twenty or so personal service agreements or contracts that Vallas has signed were put out to a competitive bid, despite the fact that state and local laws and regulations require that any contract in excess of $25,000 go through a full competitive bidding process.

Even contracts under $25,000 but over $7,500 must follow some type of competitive review.

In Vallas’ case, the vast major of contracts, at least 18 of the 20 or more contracts, required a competitive bid process and yet he failed to follow that required process in every single situation.

Vallas’ approach may be to simply dismiss the problem, but Connecticut’s citizens are well aware of what happens when elected officials are unwilling to follow the law.

Not only did a sitting governor head off to prison for violating Connecticut law,  but a shockingly significant number of mayors have been sent to prison for engaging in corrupt and illegal activities…and a number of those crimes related to attempts to sidestep Connecticut’s competitive bidding requirements and direct contracts to particular individuals or companies.

When it comes to the sanctity of competitive bidding, the law in Connecticut could not be clearer.

Competitive bidding is required except in the most limited and special circumstances.

In the one known case where Paul Vallas used a sole source rationale to sidestep the competitive process, the documents that his office used to document their right to sole source the contract would have been more clear and more accurate had it been written by a five year old. Not only was the sole source rationale incoherent, but it was factually incorrect on nearly every point.

As comprehensive as today’s Connecticut Post article was (and everyone should make sure they read it), it failed to get to the critical question of Vallas’ attempt to direct numerous contracts to people who worked for his private company or particular people and vendors he has worked with previously.

The truth is that under the laws and regulations of Connecticut and the City of Bridgeport, Paul Vallas did not have the authority to sign the vast majority of these new contracts.

And if these contracts are deemed valid, Connecticut and Bridgeport taxpayers will be on the hook for almost $12 million dollars and counting.  (This after Governor Malloy pushed through legislation providing a “forgivable loan” to the City of Bridgeport so they could cover a $3.5 million dollars budget deficit in their education budget.)

The question is this…

How is it possible that no one in Mayor Finch or Governor Malloy’s administrations stopped this abuse of power and what steps will they now take to ensure that Connecticut’s taxpayer’s aren’t the ones punished for Vallas’ inappropriate and potentially  illegal activities.

Will No One Stand Up For the Taxpayers of Bridgeport?

No bid contracts leave Bridgeport taxpayers on the hook…

First Paul Vallas retained the services of the Public Consulting Group.

In one of his many PowerPoint Presentations, Vallas wrote that “PCG Group is auditing the district’s Medicaid reimbursement process.  PCG has an outstanding reputation for assessing and improving the process in order to obtain optimal reimbursement…”

Apparently, following their “review,” the consultants did what they often do and provided a report recommending that the city HIRE THEM, not just for Medicaid reimbursement work, but for providing a whole new software system for Bridgeport’s special education program.

Rather than putting the contract out to bid, Vallas inappropriately used a sole-source process to dump Bridgeport’s existing special educations software called Clarity and replace it with the product owned by PCG.

Team Vallas claimed that they go a spectacular deal.  In fact, but for a $15,000 annual fee, Vallas said that PCG was going to offer them a product worth hundreds of thousands for FREE…

For FREE?

What happened to the notion that when something sounds too good to believe it probably is.

Among the unspoken issues is that the no-bid contract between Vallas and PCG includes a series of possible add-on components (outlined in Exhibit C2).  These are all “additional modules” that Vallas could purchase without having to go out to bid.

Among them is an option allowing Bridgeport to expand EasyIEP to include a system to track what is called “RTI.”  Here in Connecticut, it is actually called “SRBI.”

Regardless of what you call it, it is a series of federal and state laws and regulations that require schools to identify and develop programs that ensure that students with learning disabilities and other challenges get appropriate individualized programs that provide these students with the best possible education.

Thirty eight states now mandate that schools implement this type of program.

As part of the SRBI requirements, schools must screen every child, and where problems exist, the schools must develop and implement appropriate plans for each child that includes on-going progress monitoring.  Many Connecticut towns are already doing it, but some like Bridgeport are collecting the required data on a more haphazard basis.

Sooner or later Bridgeport will be required to update the way they fulfill the SRBI requirements.

And that brings up back to the sole-source contract that Vallas signed with PCG.

The expansion option would allow Bridgeport to utilize PCG’s RTI/SRBI software for the cost of an additional $6.50 to $7.50 per student plus 100 hours of programing (at a cost of $15,000) to customize the City’s system.  Together that would cost Bridgeport an additional $145,000 or so.

Is that a fair price?

Who knows, there was no bid process to determine whether a different company had a better product or would have been willing to provide more services for less money.

A little bit of research and it turns out that PCG – the very same company that got the no-bid contract in Bridgeport – recently won a competitive bid in Fulton County Georgia.

In Georgia, they didn’t offer $6.50 to $7.50 per student; they offered to charge the Georgia school system less than $ 1.00 more per student.

If that is true, the cost to Bridgeport taxpayers would have been $35,000 instead of $145,000.

But we will never really know because PCG was selected through a no-bid contract and now, any further competitive bids will be comparing apples and oranges.

Let’s be clear about the rules in Connecticut and Bridgeport:

The Vallas contracts (and there have been well over a dozen between contracts for software and consultants) must meet the legal requirements of Bridgeport’s Municipal Code:  Codified through Ordinance of January 3, 2012. (Supp. No. 10, 3-12).

The legal requirements are not hard to understand.

The Bridgeport Municipal Code requires the follows:

  • “Competitive bidding shall be used for all purchases of goods and general services exceeding the sum of seven thousand five hundred dollars ($7,500.00) (See C.G.S. § 7-148v, as amended)”

Instead, if Vallas and the Board claim that the services they purchased fall into the category of what is called “special or professional services,” then they must follow requirements exist:

  • “Purchases exempt from competitive bidding. Purchases of special or professional services anticipated to cost between one dollar ($1.00) and nine hundred ninety-nine dollars ($999.00).”
  • “Purchases permitted by informal competitive quotation process. Purchases of special and professional services anticipated to cost between one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) and seven thousand four hundred ninety-nine dollars ($7,499.00).”
  • “Purchases requiring an informal competitive proposal process. Purchases of special or professional services that are in excess of seven thousand five hundred dollars ($7,500.00) but do not exceed twenty-four thousand nine hundred ninety-nine dollars ($24,999.00) (Proposals shall be solicited from at least three qualified or pre-qualified vendors…)”

And purchase of special goods and services over $25,000 shall require full competitive bidding.

So if the contracts were for standard products, Team Vallas had to put them out to bid if their total cost was more than $7,500.

If they claimed that they were “special” products or services, they had to put them out to bid if their total cost was more than $25,000 (with a modified competitive bidding if they were less than that.)

In nearly every case the contract that Paul Vallas signed or the illegal Board of Education approved was over $25,000 and none of them appear to have gone through the appropriate bidding process.

It is time for appropriate officials to investigate what appears to be a consistent willingness to violate Connecticut’s purchasing laws and regulations.

Team Vallas Falsifies Documents to Avoid Competitive Bidding

According to documents provided by City of Bridgeport employees, Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s $229,000 Part-time Superintendent of Schools, or members of his senior staff, provided false information on official City documents in order to use a technique called “sole-sourcing” to give a major City contract to a company called the Public Consulting Group Inc.  Vallas provided the same company with multi-million-dollars contracts when he was the CEO of the Chicago Schools and again when he was CEO of the Philadelphia Schools.

Up until this year, Bridgeport has been using a software program called Clarity to track and coordinate Bridgeport’s special education program.  But this past March, Team Vallas used a “sole source” acquisition process to drop the Clarity software and sign a multi-year contract for the Public Consulting Group’s EasyIEP software.

After former Governor John Rowland went to prison for his criminal involvement in directing state contracts to particular vendors in return for kickbacks, the State of Connecticut and many of its cities and towns strengthened their laws and regulations requiring the use of competitive bidding when public entities are purchasing goods or services.

Today, contracts signed by the City of Bridgeport must meet the provisions of Connecticut State Statute 7-148v and Title 3 of Bridgeport’s Municipal Code.

These laws require that any contract over $7,500 must be competitively bid unless they meet a series of very limited exceptions.

In order to get an exemption from the competitive bidding requirement, the public official must submit a form PUR100: Justification for Sole Source Acquisition, and then receive approval to move forward.  The exemption can only be granted when there are special circumstances that warrant not going through a bidding process.

In the case of the special education software, Team Vallas attempted to justify their sole source request by stating that the Public Consulting Group’s product was so special and so unique that it wasn’t even worth soliciting bids from other companies.  The sole source request stated that “PCG’s EasyIEP system is the most comprehensive, all in one Medicaid/Health case management system available and that they offered a number of unique features”

Paul Vallas’ Chief of Staff expanded on their rationale in a response to a question on the Superintendent’s website:  See https://sites.google.com/site/bpsdirect/question-forum-1.

As to why the Superintendent chose EasyIEP, his office stated;

“There are a multitude of reasons why Bridgeport Public Schools has found itself with a major budget deficit each of the last three years.  One of these big factors which we uncovered in January was that over the past few years, Bridgeport has seen a massive drop off (40%) in the amount of potential Medicaid reimbursements which is currently being recouped.

A large part of this drop is due to the fact that with the Clarity software previously in use, all reimbursements had to be submitted manually. Additionally, the Clarity program was down to only two clients nationally, giving us some concerns about its future viability going forward.  As a result, the district decided to look at potential different options.   What we found in our search was that there was only one option which provided an automated Medicaid reimbursement process– EasyIEP.  Not surprisingly, given that they offer this unique service, EasyIEP is currently used by 2,600 districts across the country.”

Apparently the purchasing department fell for that argument and the Vallas’ request to skip any competitive bidding was approved.  Vallas signed a contract with the Public Consulting Group on April 23, 2012.

However, it turns out that almost every point that Paul Vallas and his team used to rationalize the appropriateness of skipping a competitive bidding process was false.

Team Vallas wrote that “a large part of this drop [in Bridgeport’s Medicaid Reimbursement Bridgeport] is due to the fact that with the Clarity software previously in use, all reimbursements had to be submitted manually.

  • The statement is COMPLETELY FALSE:  Clarity actually has a state-of-the-art Medicaid Reimbursement Module for their software and that module ensures a school district gets all the Medicaid funds it is entitled to.  However, the City of Bridgeport NEVER PURCHASED THAT MODULE and, instead, chose to handle all Medicaid reimbursement manually.

Team Vallas wrote that “the Clarity program was down to only two clients nationally, giving us some concerns about its future viability going forward.”

  • The statement is COMPLETELY FALSE:  In fact, just last month, following an intensive competitive bid process to determine what was the best special education software for use in the State’s Technical High Schools, the Connecticut State Department of Education AWARDED THE CONTRACT TO CLARITY/EXCEED the very company that Vallas’ office claims is down to only two clients.  What the failed to reveal was that the upgraded version of Clarity is being used under the name of Exceed and that Clarity/Exceed is being used in districts all across the country.

Team Vallas wrote that “as a result, the district decided to look at potential different options.   What we found in our search was that there was only one option which provided an automated Medicaid reimbursement process– EasyIEP.  Not surprisingly, given that they offer this unique service, EasyIEP is currently used by 2,600 districts across the country.”

  • The statement is COMPLETELY FALSE:  There are, in fact, a number of vendors that provide very successful automated Medicaid reimbursement systems for school districts.  In fact, the very company that Vallas terminated, Spectrum K12, which owns the Clarity/Exceed software is partnered with another firm called Accelify. A simple Internet search would have made it clear that Accelify is “one of the largest and fastest growing school-based Medicaid billing agents in the country, currently serving hundreds of school districts.”  Undoubtedly Bridgeport’s existing vendor could have submitted a very competitive bid had they been given the opportunity.

And Team Vallas also wrote that EasyIEP is currently used in 2,600 districts.

  • And even that statement is COMPLETELY FALSE:  EasyIEP’s own website claims that they are used in less than half of that number of districts.

Finally, perhaps most damning of all, is that even if Bridgeport determined that the best solution was to use the Public Consulting Group’s Medicaid Reimbursement software, one option would have been to do what a major Nevada school district did.  They had Clarity/Exceed develop a “connection” that allowed all the necessary special education data to simply transfer over to PCG’s Medicaid billing system, thereby allowing the school district to utilize both programs.

The most preliminary investigation reveals that virtually nothing that Team Vallas claimed in their effort to give Bridgeport’s special education software contract to the Public Consulting Group was true.

Purposely ducking the competitive bidding laws and regulations in Connecticut and Bridgeport is a major violation of law and has far-reaching civil, and potentially even criminal, penalties.

Appropriate officials, including the Office of the Attorney General, the State Auditors and potentially even the Chief State’s Attorney, need to conduct a proper investigation and ensure that evidence is not destroyed.

And will the failure to competitively bid this project have a negative impact on taxpayers in Connecticut and Bridgeport?

Check back here at Wait, What for the next installment post on this issue.

Every Connecticut taxpayer will be disturbed by the ramifications of Team Vallas’ unwillingness to abide by the laws requiring competitive bidding.

Hey Bridgeport; Vallas Has Your Credit Card and He’s Going Wild (Part II of II)

By now, most know the story well…

Governor Malloy and Mayor Finch work out a deal to take over the Bridgeport Schools and appoint a new school board.  Despite the action being deemed illegal, the new appointed board fires the old superintendent, costing taxpayers $220,000, since they had to buy out that guy’s contract.

Paul Vallas, education reformer extraordinaire makes his debut here in Connecticut, along with his growing entourage of associates, assistant, aides and consultants.

To balance this year’s Bridgeport school budget, Vallas cuts a variety of programs and lays off dozens of school teachers and education professionals.

Left with a $3.4 million shortfall (1.5% of the budget), Mayor Finch trades the democratic rights of his constituents for a $3.4 million “loan” from Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s education commissioner.

Meanwhile, Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s interim Superintendent of Schools, has been using no-bid contracts to lock the taxpayers of Bridgeport and Connecticut into tens of millions of dollars in future bills.  Oh, and the no-bid contracts, all with companies that he has done business with in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans and elsewhere.

First came the June standardized tests, but Vallas said Bridgeport got a “good deal” on those.

Then came the $10.5 million dollar contract for textbooks, the first payment of $2.6 million is due by the end of this year.  Bridgeport certainly needed new textbooks, but it’s a bit of problem that the Vallas Team ordered some of the wrong textbooks (A British Literature anthology for every high school senior when the school system doesn’t even teach British Literature in 12th grade).  Alas, if they had only taken the time to check with the teachers.

Then Vallas and Company dropped the software Bridgeport Schools have used to track special education students and, instead, locked the City into a long-term contract for a system called Easy IEP.  At the time, Vallas failed to reveal that had signed a multi-million dollar contract with the owner of Easy IEP when he was the CEO of the Chicago School System and again when he was the CEO of the Philadelphia Schools.  Easy IEP’s parent company, PCG, even features the two victories on its corporate website.

Then Vallas ends Central at Night’s “alternative education and credit recovery program” and replaces it with a new “alternative education and credit recovery program” called Twilight.  Along with the name change, he drops the City’s contract with NovaNet software and signs a new contract expanding the use of “Apex Learning.  Apex also had contracts with the Philadelphia and Chicago school system.

Then there is Vallas’ decision to purchase Rubicon Atlas, a powerful curriculum mapping program.  Rubicon’s pitch is that their software provides “a tool to organize, communicate and disseminate information” and that it “is the solution to managing curriculum and sharing instructional best practices across grades, subjects, schools, and cultures.”

Although powerful and potentially very useful, the software is not cheap and requires a tremendous commitment of time and money to recruit and train employees on how to use the software, and even more time developing and aligning the curriculum to the common core standards.  One nearby community spent three years developing and enhancing their Rubicon based curriculum, and that was just in their math department.  Many schools in New York City use the Rubicon Atlas software but actually have to dedicate much of their professional development time to training teachers on how to work with the program.

Readers won’t be surprised to learn that Vallas is big on Rubicon Atlas.  The software has made an appearance in most of the school systems Vallas has gotten involved in.  In fact, in 2010, when Vallas get a big consulting contract to help rebuild Haiti’s schools system, Rubicon sent a team “armed with school supplies, apparel and professional development” to help develop Haiti’s school system.

And finally, word on the street is that Vallas has or will soon be signing a contract with Schoolnet, an “Instructional Improvement System (IIS) [which] helps schools increase student achievement and teacher effectiveness.”

And one guess who put Schoolnet on the map?

Schoolnet’s website highlights its work in the Chicago Public Schools and the School District of Philadelphia.”

According to one blog post in December 2008,

Paul Vallas approved $6,000,000 in Philly public education funds for Schoolnet to operate a “curriculum reform project.”

The Board action read; RESOLVED, That the School Reform Commission authorizes the School District of Philadelphia, through the Chief Information Officer or designee, to amend resolution #E-17 dated May 21, 2003 with Schoolnet to increase the amount payable by $342,000 for a revised total of $6,042,000 for Phase I of the curriculum reform project beginning June 1, 2003 and continuing perpetually.

Perpetually?

Yup, at least perpetually to the point that the Philadelphia Schools paid out $20,000,000 between 2004 and 2008, and at last check, the number was still climbing.

See: http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2008/12/how-paul-vallas-and-arne-duncan-helped.html

Oh, and perhaps the greatest irony of all is that Schoolnet website reads, “in June 2011, Schoolnet was acquired by Pearson, the world’s leading learning company. Schoolnet and Pearson share a common vision where we believe in learning – all kinds of learning – for all kinds of students. Pearson offers world-class solutions for K-12 education, including PowerSchool Chancer SMS, PowerTeacher and others.”

Wait, PowerSchool?

Yup, Bridgeport bought that only two or three years ago.

Updating software and technology is part of any turnaround program, but all at once?  And all with using no-bid contracts?

Bridgeport may need $3.4 million to balance this year’s budget, but just wait till you get the bill for all these new software programs.

And with the state of Connecticut picking up 80 percent of Bridgeport’s school expenses, the incredible Paul Vallas’ spending spree of 2012 is going to mean higher taxes for the people of Bridgeport and every taxpayer in Connecticut.

Just one more question.  Did Bridgeport’s illegally appointed Board of Education approve all these contacts?

If anyone sees Paul Vallas, can you please take away the credit card before he bankrupts us all.

Rev. Moales; It’s called the Freedom of Information Act and it even applies to you…

Earlier this week, Bridgeport’s illegally appointed Board of Education held a meeting of its Ad Hoc Budget Committee to hear from part-time superintendent of schools, Paul Vallas, about his plans to over-ride local support and pull Bridgeport’s successful alternative high school program out of the University School, a non-profit entity that has been part of the Bridgeport community for decades.

Although the meeting agenda was explicit, with only two items to be discussed, parents, University School supporters and other community members had to sit through a meeting in which the Budget Committee members and staff held a wide-ranging discussion on a variety of issues.

When an audience member, Carmen Lopez, a retired Connecticut judge, raised the point that Connecticut law requires that the members of a public board or committee limit their discussions to what is on the agenda, the Committee’s Chairman, Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr., became verbally abusive yelling that he “will talk about anything he wants to talk about” and that “no-one is going to tell him what he can talk about at his meeting.”

When informed that failure to follow the agenda would be a violation of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, Moalas was reported to have said “I don’t care.”

Considering that Rev. Moales served as Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign treasurer in last year’s mayoral campaign, one would expect that he would understand the law and appreciate the importance of respecting Mayor Finch’s constituents, but apparently that isn’t the case.

Following his unwarranted attack and diatribe, the Mayor or someone on the Mayor’s staff would do well to provide Rev. Moales with a copy of the law or they could simply print off the following:

Sec. 1-225.  (Formerly Sec. 1-21).  Meetings of government agencies to be public.  Recording of votes.  Schedule and agenda of meetings…

“(c) The agenda of the regular meetings of every public agency…shall be available to the public and shall be filed, not less than twenty-four hours before the meetings to which they refer…Upon the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of a public agency present and voting, any subsequent business not included in such filed agendas may be considered and acted upon at such meetings.”  [This means that the members can only discuss the items on the agenda unless, by a two-thirds vote the members move to open the agenda and add additional items.  The reason this law exists is that the public has a fundamental right to know, at least 24 hours in advance, what their public servants will be discussing.]

In addition, Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education should specifically note that;

“(d) Notice of each special meeting of every public agency…shall be posted not less than twenty-four hours before the meeting to which such notice refers… The notice shall specify the time and place of the special meeting and the business to be transacted.  No other business shall be considered at such meetings by such public agency. “[This means that if the meeting in question is a “special meeting” then the agenda cannot be modified in any way.]

As a member of the appointed Board of Education and a Democratic candidate for Bridgeport’s reconstituted Board of Education, Moales’ public behavior sends a clear message about his approach to ensuring public input on education issues.

However, what may be an even bigger issue for Rev. Moales, is whether he faces a potential conflict of interest when it comes to even serving on the appointed or elected Board of Education.

Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ, Inc., a company affiliated with Prayer Tabernacle Church of Love, Inc. received approximately $600,000 in public funds for day care and after school services that it has provided to the City of Bridgeport over the past year.

Most, if not all, of these funds were paid through a contact between Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ Inc. and the Bridgeport Board of Education.  Since 2006, Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ, Inc. has received over $2.2 million in public funds.

While the corporate records have not been properly maintained or updated, according to the documents filed with the Secretary of the State and the IRS Form 990s that are filed with the Federal government, Peggy Ann Moales, Kenneth Moales’ mother, serves as the President of Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ, Inc. and the President of Prayer Tabernacle Church of Love, Inc.

Considering the corporation’s records have not been updated since about 2004, it is unclear what, if any, corporate position Reverend Kenneth Moales presently holds, but traditionally a financial conflict of interest occurs when an official or an immediate family member of that official is associated with a business that would benefit directly from that official’s actions.

Since the Board of Education contracts directly with Kingdom’s Little Ones in Christ Inc., Rev. Maoles may have just such a conflict, in which he should not even be serving on Bridgeport’s appointed Board of Education, let alone be running for a seat on the upcoming elected Board.

There is absolutely no excuse for public officials to flaunt the law, regardless of whether it is the Freedom of Information law or the conflict of interest laws.

The Bridgeport Schools Take Over: How things work… (Part 1)

Returning from the “dead” – Bridgeport’s elected Board of Education faces almost certain death.

The Mayor of Bridgeport wants the city’s Board of Education out.  One option would be to follow the lead of Hartford and change the city charter so that the mayor controls the school system. The other option would be for the state to take-over control of the school system.

Following months of behind the scenes maneuvering (including the bizarre participation of a Fairfield County billionaire’s representative), the Connecticut State Board of Education voted 5-4 to take over the Bridgeport school system.  Their action removed the elected school board members and replaced them with appointees.  The next step would have been to appoint a “Special Master” to run the schools on the state’s behalf.

The only problem…

The state failed to follow its own laws and last week the State Supreme Court struck down the state’s action and reinstated the members of the Bridgeport School Board.

Within hours, the Malloy Administration and Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams were moving forward with a plan to introduce emergency legislation to circumvent the Supreme Court’s action.

The bill would have stated that any action taken by the State Board of Education about the Bridgeport schools that had been illegal would now be deemed legal.

True it might sound a bit “un-American” but hey “democracy” can be a bit messy at times.

The emergency legislation would have passed and been signed into law except that the state legislators from Bridgeport couldn’t reach an agreement about how to proceed so that the concept of emergency legislation has been dropped.

But for all the Bridgeport take-over fans out there, have no fear, another bill (SB 302) is moving quickly through the legislative process and will likely come up for a vote within the next 45 days.  This bill, proposed by the Malloy Administration, would give the Commissioner of Education even stronger powers to take over what they deem to be “failing” school systems.  When the bill passes – the Bridgeport Board of Education’s days are numbered.

While policy issues play a role in some of these decisions it is really an extraordinary case study on the way politics and relationships impact the legislative process. Continue reading “The Bridgeport Schools Take Over: How things work… (Part 1)”