Superintendent Vallas Can Remain On Job During Appeal

Bridgeport's embattled school superintendent, Paul Vallas, will get to stay on the job this fall as the Connecticut Supreme Court considers his case.
    On July 10, a lower court judge ordered Vallas' immediate removal from the office -- a follow-up to her June 28 ruling that he is unqualified for the office. But the state Supreme Court said Thursday that Vallas can remain in office while the state's highest court debates his case.
    "I'm pleased with the court's ruling, but our focus remains on serving the children of Bridgeport and working with parents, teachers and staff," Vallas said in a statement delivered by his spokesman, "to ensure a strong opening to the year and the continued improvement of our schools."
    Steve Ecker, Vallas' attorney said, "The best news here is that there will be the same steady hand leading the Bridgeport school system as the school year opens."
    "Regardless of what anyone thinks about the ultimate merits of the case," Ecker said, "this was the right thing for the school district. ..." Vallas' abrupt departure would have been "highly disruptive," he said.
    Ecker said that appeals to the state's highest court generally take about five to eight months to complete, but it varies.
    Vallas, who has been serving as superintendent in Bridgeport for the past 18 months, was the subject of a complaint filed by two Bridgeport residents, Carmen L. Lopez and Deborah Reyes-Williams, earlier this year contending that he is unqualified.
    Norman Pattis, the attorney for the plaintiffs, has argued that Vallas should leave office as soon as possible so the city can start looking for a replacement. Pattis could not be reached for comment late Thursday. Kevin Smith, another attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to comment.
    Lopez and Reyes-Williams said in a statement Thursday that "all the court has done is to reinstate the automatic stay, which is provided by the rules of practice."
    "We look forward to arguing the merits of the appeal because we believe that both the law and the facts (are) on our side. ... Paul Vallas is not qualified under Connecticut law to serve as superintendent of schools. Nothing said by the Supreme Court today changes that fact."
    Vallas has had 16 years of experience leading school districts in Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia, but he is not certified as a superintendent in Connecticut.
    Last year, the General Assembly passed a law, tailored to his situation, that made it possible for him to waive the need for certification if he completed an education leadership program.
    Vallas and the city of Bridgeport contend he did so, but Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled June 28 that the UConn independent study completed by Vallas earlier this year was merely a course and not sufficient to qualify him for a waiver. Bellis ruled that he was unqualified for the job and should be removed.
    Following that decision, Bellis ruled on July 10 that Vallas should not remain in office during the appeal and ordered him out of the job immediately. He remained at work while challenging that decision.
    It is Bellis' July 10 order that the state Supreme Court addressed Thursday.
    Melissa Farley, executive director of external affairs for the state's judicial branch, said the court issued an order dated Thursday that said that Vallas' "automatic appellate stay is reinstated."
    In a 12-page motion filed earlier in the day, Pattis and Smith argued that Bellis "carefully analyzed all of the evidence presented" and said that her decision to terminate the "appellate stay" that allowed Vallas to remain in office was "an appropriate exercise" of the trial court's "discretion."
    The motion argued that Vallas' lawyer failed to demonstrate that replacing him at this point would be "disastrous."
    "To the contrary," the motion said, "the best time for transition is now, during the 'summer vacation.' "
    Vallas' supporters were relieved by the court's order.
    State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who introduced Vallas to Bridgeport, said in a statement: "We are pleased that the Supreme Court's reinstatement of the stay will allow Mr. Vallas to continue to serve as superintendent during the litigation period. This decision will provide stability for Bridgeport's students and schools until the Supreme Court renders its final judgment."
    The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Vallas' appeal of the June 28 ruling in mid-September.

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