Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas called Ward Room this morning, to respond to a post about a judge’s decision to remove him from his job as interim superintendent of the Bridgeport, Conn., public schools.
Vallas, who was appointed interim superintendent in 2011 after the state of Connecticut took over Bridgeport’s schools, was ordered out of his job by a Superior Court judge who ruled he had taken a “sham” course to meet the certification requirements for superintendent. Normally, superintendents are required to complete a 13-month course at the University of Connecticut, but Vallas was taking an abbreviated independent study course approved by the state board of education.
Vallas said he remains on the job while the school district appeals the ruling.
So how did Vallas, who has run school districts in Chicago, Philadelphia and Louisiana, end up in a little place like Bridgeport, pop. 144,229? Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Vallas has made 75 trips to the island, to develop its school system. While there, he met Connecticut Education Commission Stefan Pryor, who asked him to run Bridgeport’s schools after the takeover. Vallas, who sees himself as a troubleshooter for troubled schools, accepted the job. Since he started, he has balanced the budget without laying off teachers, and purchased new textbooks.
“I’m not Rahm Emanuel badmouthing teachers, saying teachers get raises and kids get the shaft,” Vallas said. “I’m going to try to fix things without bloodying people.”
The court case, he said, was instigated by the Working Families Party, a union-funded group opposed to the state’s school takeover.
“This is just another attempt to block us from instituting reforms,” he said. “There’s a lot of intra-district conflict going on, and I’m caught in the middle.”
As for the course at the center of the case, Vallas said state law required a superintendent to be certified in Connecticut, but allow the state board of education to determine certification requirements. Vallas’s course was approved by the board, he said.
“Measuring effectiveness by seat time is a little silly,” Vallas said. “What am I supposed to do, run Bridgeport and sit in a class for 13 months?”
Vallas said he expects to run the district until sometime in the next school, which will require him to negotiate the next collective bargaining agreement. After that?
“I go in, fix the system, I move on to something else.”
Would that something else be the financially broke state of Illinois, where Vallas still has a home, and where he ran for governor in 2002?
“Let’s just say I’m still registered to vote (there),” he said.