Courtesy of the Bridgeport Public Schools website
Paul Vallas (Courtesy of the Bridgeport Public Schools website)

Before Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis decided Wednesday that Paul Vallas must vacate his office while he appeals her decision that he’s not qualified for the job, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy defended the embattled Bridgeport schools superintendent.

“Do I think someone who was the superintendent of Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans is qualified to be a superintendent of schools in Connecticut? The answer is yes,” Malloy said.

The comment came a few days after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan who was mentored by Vallas in Chicago called the decision “fascinating.”

Vallas and the city are appealing Bellis’ June ruling. In the meantime, Vallas and his supporters were hoping to keep him in the position pending the appeal, but Bellis decided it would be better for him to go.

The court case has demonstrated the sharp divide between the education reformers who support charter schools and education advocates who believe in the public school system and don’t believe big corporations should be involved in education.

Jennifer Alexander, acting chief executive officer for Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, who supports Vallas said the ruling “ serves as yet another example of petty politics getting in the way of strengthening Bridgeport’s public education system.”

But opponents of Vallas, including the Working Families Party, said they were happy to see “Vallas’ brand of corporate-backed education reform” go.

“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 party said in an emailed statement. 

While Malloy defended Vallas he also tried to distance himself from the controversy painting it as a local education issue.

“Listen, it’s a local issue,” Malloy said. “Bridgeport’s got to do what Bridgeport thinks is best for its students.”

After Vallas was appointed to the position in 2011, it was learned that he lacked the leadership certificate necessary to be a superintendent in Connecticut. So the state modified the law and decided he could obtain the certificate by completing a 13-month program at the University of Connecticut. When he failed to do that the state Education Board approved an abbreviated independent study, but Judge Bellis wasn’t convinced that the independent study satisfied the requirements.

Asked if he thinks the state should offer a path for someone like Vallas to receive the credentials he needs to be a superintendent, Malloy responded again with a rhetorical question.

“Do I think that someone who was the superintendent of Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans is qualified to be a superintendent in the state of Connecticut? The answer is yes,” Malloy said.

Malloy declined to say whether he thought the law should be changed to allow someone with Vallas’ credentials to be a superintendent in Connecticut.

“I’m not expert enough on that stuff,” Malloy said. “I spend a lot of time in education. That’s not one of the areas I’ve been spending a lot of time, so I’ll leave it to others to speak to that issue.”

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