A Bridgeport superior court judge Wednesday ordered Bridgeport Superintendent Paul Vallas to leave office immediately because he doesn’t have the necessary credentials for the job.
Despite that order, Vallas can continue in his post while the city appeals, said Steven Ecker, a Hartford attorney hired by Bridgeport.
Ecker also said he has filed a petition to the chief justice of the state Supreme Court for a review of the entire case under a special statute that permits immediate review by the state’s top court in cases involving the public interest.
“The Bridgeport school district has 21,000 students, and it’s in crisis,” Ecker said. “It’s been in crisis for years. Superintendent Vallas is doing a tremendous job, and the judge just told him that he has to leave. We think that’s a reason to do an immediate review.”
Ecker said it would be “catastrophic” for Vallas to be removed from office.
Kevin Smith, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, said that Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis made her decision Wedneday because of “a compelling and paramount public interest in there being a certified valid superintendent as the head of the Bridgeport public schools.”
Bellis could not be reached late Wednesday afternoon, and a written ruling was not available.
Early Wednesday evening Vallas said he was “used to being in tough situations.”
“The bottom line is, if this wasn’t about the kids, it would be easy to say sayonara,” he said. “These kids have been neglected… If we have to go all the way to Supreme Court to stand up for these kids, that’s what we’ll do.”
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said in a statement, “What could this judge, whose children do not attend Bridgeport schools, be possibly thinking? I’m confident an impartial, higher court will give Bridgeport kids some of the justice they have long deserved. I want to keep Paul Vallas here fighting for our kids.”
But Taylor Leake, communications director for the Connecticut Working Families Party, which has opposed Vallas, said in an email: “We’re glad to see that Paul Vallas won’t continue to act as superintendent while he appeals the court ruling that he isn’t legally qualified to lead a school district in Connecticut. … The sooner Bridgeport puts the failures of Paul Vallas behind it and starts spending taxpayer money on education instead of continued legal action, the better.”
Bellis’ order stems back to her June 28 ruling that Vallas should be removed from office because he is not qualified for the job. Under the law, Vallas had an “automatic stay” in force, allowing him to remain at his post during the appeal that the city said it planned to file.
But on July 1, Smith filed a motion calling for that stay to be dissolved and seeking Vallas’ immediate dismissal, arguing that termination would serve the “public interest.”
In that motion, Smith wrote that not dismissing Vallas at once would “postpone the inevitable transition to a legitimate superintendent, possibly until the fall or beyond. Clearly, terminating the stay now would allow the transition to take place during the summer, a decided advantage to the public interest and students of Bridgeport…”
Ever since Vallas, who has a national reputation as an education reformer, was hired by a state-appointed Bridgeport education board 18 months ago, he has been the subject of both intense support and criticism.
Vallas has led school systems in Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia but is not certified as a superintendent in Connecticut. Under a state law tailored to his situation that the General Assembly passed last year, he would be eligible to serve as a superintendent if he completed a “school leadership program.”
Vallas successfully completed an independent study course at UConn’s Neag School of Education. But Bellis said in her June 28 ruling that it was merely a course, and not the kind of program that the state Board of Education requires.
Earlier Wednesday, prior to the judge’s ruling, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called the battle over Vallas “a local issue. … Bridgeport’s got to do what Bridgeport thinks is best for its students.”
But, Malloy added: “Do I think that someone who was superintendent of Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans is qualified to be a superintendent in the state of Connecticut? The answer is yes.”
Text by Kathleen Megan, Hartford Courant; Video by Fox CT