A judge has ordered Bridgeport School Superintendent Paul Vallas removed from office in a decision issued Friday that the city's mayor said he plans to appeal immediately.
Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis wrote in her decision that Vallas, who has a national reputation as an education reformer but is not certified as a superintendent in Connecticut, is not qualified to continue as superintendent because he did not complete a "school leadership program" needed for a waiver of the certification requirement.
Vallas, who began in Bridgeport as interim superintendent 18 months ago, has contended that he did complete the necessary program at UConn's Neag School of Education. Bellis wrote that Vallas submitted his last paper to the school May 30, received a final "A grade" that same day, and in June was granted a waiver of certification by Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor.
But Bellis wrote that Vallas took only a three-credit independent study "course" at UConn and not the program that the State Board of Education had approved as necessary to qualify for the waiver.
"The state Board of Education approved what they believed was a UConn-approved program, with requirements of classes, seminars, and technology assisted discussions that simply did not take place," Bellis wrote. "...Therefore, although Vallas completed a course, he did not complete the 'program' that was approved by the state Board of Education."
Because Vallas did not complete the "school leadership program," Bellis wrote that Vallas was not entitled to receive a waiver of certification. The waiver Vallas received June 17 was "invalid" and she ordered "that Paul Vallas be removed from his office."
Mayor Bill Finch issued a statement saying the city will file an appeal immediately and he anticipates a reversal so Vallas can "continue his great work on behalf of the students of Bridgeport."
"We disagree entirely with the substance of the judge's decision," Finch said. "We believe it goes against the great weight of facts presented at trial and the applicable law."
From the start, Vallas' tenure has been contentious. When he arrived in Bridgeport in December 2011, he was praised by many as an education superstar who, as superintendent, had helped turn around districts in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans.
While his supporters have said his job history makes him more than qualified for the Bridgeport position, he does not have Connecticut certification. In April, two city residents filed a lawsuit claiming he is not qualified to be superintendent.
State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who was instrumental in Vallas' initial decision to come to Bridgeport, said in a statement, "We disagree with and are disappointed by the court's decision. Paul Vallas' superintendency -- affirmed by Bridgeport's democratically elected school board -- has brought to the city invaluable expertise acquired over Mr. Vallas' previous 15 years as superintendent of three major urban districts.
"We support Bridgeport's decision to pursue next steps in the legal process."
Vallas, who has a three-year contract with an annual salary of $234,000, said in a statement that he will continue to focus on "improving schools for students desperately in need of a better education. That has to remain our focus despite any other distractions, as our students deserve nothing less."
Norm Pattis, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said Friday, that the Neag program was a "farce" and he hopes Vallas will "pack his bags and get out of town."