As students and teachers head back to school this fall in Bridgeport, a big question mark will likely linger over who is in charge.
“I would be extremely surprised if this were resolved” before September, said attorney Steven D. Ecker, who represents ousted Bridgeport Superintendent Paul Vallas.
Last month, a Superior Court judge ruled that Vallas is not eligible to run the state’s largest school district because the independent study program he completed at the University of Connecticut failed to qualify him for the required state certification.
Ecker is now asking the state’s Supreme Court to step in and allow Vallas to remain on the job until his appeals are exhausted.
“Thousands of children are at immediate risk,” Ecker wrote to the court.
The state’s options also have not yet been exhausted. The Bridgeport matter is on the State Board of Education’s agenda for its Monday meeting.
And while Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers has at least until the end of July to decide if the court will hear arguments on whether Vallas should be able to stay in office pending appeal, Ecker said it’s “unlikely anything will be settled” before the end of the district’s summer break.
While Vallas may be granted temporary approval to stay on sometime in the next 30 to 45 days, Ecker said the actual issue of whether Vallas is qualified will likely drag out to the winter.
The state Supreme Court historically has taken four to seven months to rule after hearing arguments. The Supreme Court’s February 2012 decision surrounding the state’s ouster of the locally elected Bridgeport Board of Education took four months to decide.
If the high court elects not to take the case by Wednesday, the appellate court historically has taken 12 to 18 months to rule, Ecker said.
As the leadership drama plays out in the courts and on the administrative level, both Vallas and the four Bridgeport school board members who oppose his leadership are attempting to move on.
“My status has not changed and I will continue to work with you to provide the children of Bridgeport with the educational opportunities they deserve,” he wrote to his staff in a communication that outlined all the initiatives he still plans to roll out.
The four members of the minority voting bloc on the Bridgeport school board are requesting that the board create a search committee to find the district’s next superintendent and develop a transition plan.
“It is critical that an Interim Superintendent be named and given the authority to lead this District, while this cloud hangs over Mr. Vallas,” they wrote to the Rev. Kenneth Morales Jr., chairman of the Bridgeport school board. “We believe that the time to begin the search for a Superintendent of Schools, who is properly certified under Connecticut law, is now.”
The State Board of Education Monday is set to meet behind closed doors for “Consideration of Action regarding” the case. One possible state remedy that the state board can do since Bridgeport is one of the state’s lowest-performing districts is to appoint a “special master” to lead the district, as the state board has done in New London and Windham. Special masters have a range of authority to make management and governance decisions in the districts they are appointed to.
There was no immediate response from the state education department Friday on whether the board is considering appointing a special master in Bridgeport.