Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Paul Vallas, Superintendent of Schools of the Bridgeport School District, have a lot in common (besides their goatees). Both received harsh performance evaluations in their most recent jobs; Vallas, as Budget Director of the City of Chicago, and Pryor as the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development in the City of Newark. On the bright side, neither position had much to do with education; then again, how did these individuals manage to get appointed to the highest and second highest positions in education in Connecticut? Neither has any experience running a classroom1, never mind a school district or the credentials for being the top educational leader of the State of Connecticut.
Neither of these likeable gentlemen have even so much as a certification to be a classroom teacher, not mention a superintendent of schools or commissioner of education. Their educational “achievement gap” could not be any greater relative to the positions they hold, and a lot of important people must have had to “turnaround” to miss that these two emperors of education had no clothes on, and still don’t.
Mr. Vallas was appointed by a Bridgeport Board of Education that, despite support from Governor Malloy and his chief legal counsel, Andrew MacDonald, the Supreme Court of Connecticut held had been taken over illegally by appointees of the state board of education.
Malloy and McDonald then tried to nullify that Supreme Court decision by slipping language into a bill, ironically, proffered to correct supposed educational faults or evils.
According to the Hartford Courant, “the Malloy administration’s proposed legal fix for the Bridgeport takeover amounts to two sentences inserted half way through a 163-page package of education reforms. It targets the situation in Bridgeport particularly by validating any board takeover after July 1, 2010, regardless of whether there was training (of the board members) or not.” Well, eventually a new Board was seated lawfully and not too long after that another lawsuit was commenced to remove Mr. Vallas once and for all due to his lack of superintendent certification and, amazingly, for his failure to fulfill the mini requirements for an exemption from that certification. Vallas was once again supported by the Governor, the Bridgeport Mayor, Bill Finch, and his long-time friend, Commissioner Pryor, who personally testified in court on Vallas’ behalf. Judge Bellis heard the case in Superior Court and rendered a decision deposing Vallas for lack of certification, lack of exemption in lieu thereof, and because he overstayed the statutory welcome mat for acting superintendents.
Vallas has appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Connecticut, which has already lifted the order that Vallas be immediately removed from his office, allowing Vallas, the “acting” superintendent, to stay put until the Supreme Court hears the case in chief on September 23, 2013.
Meanwhile, Governor Malloy’s chief counsel, Andrew McDonald, who unsuccessfully tried to thwart the Supreme Court’s previous decision reversing the illegitimate state usurpation of the Bridgeport Board of Education, was rewarded by Governor Malloy with an appointment to the Supreme Court . . . small world.
Vallas was invited by his friend and colleague, Stefan Pryor, the newly appointed Commissioner of Education, to Connecticut in December of 2011 to appraise the City of Bridgeport Public School System.2
At that time, §10-157 of the Connecticut General Statutes set forth in pertinent part the following:
a) . . . (N)o person shall assume the duties and responsibilities of the superintendent until the Board receives written confirmation from the Commissioner of Education that the person to be employed is properly certified or has had such certification waived by the commissioner pursuant to subsection (c) of this section. . . .
b) A local or regional board of education may appoint as acting superintendent a person who is or is not properly certified for a specified period of time, not to exceed ninety days, with the approval of the Commissioner of Education… provided such period of time may be extended with the approval of the commissioner, which he shall grant for good cause shown.
c) The Commissioner may, upon request of an employing local or regional board of education, grant a waiver of certification to a person (1) who has successfully completed at least three years of experience as a certified administrator with a superintendent certificate issued by another state in a public school in another state during the ten-year period prior to the date of application, or (2) who the Commissioner deems to be exceptionally qualified for the position of superintendent. In order for the Commissioner to find a person exceptionally qualified, such person shall (A) be an acting superintendent pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, (B)have worked as a superintendent in another state for no fewer than fifteen years, and (C) be certified or have been certified as a superintendent by such other state.”
Vallas had never taken any graduate courses in education and was not certified as a superintendent in Connecticut. No problem, Pryor simply introduced Vallas to the then Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education who dutifully “turn(ed) around” and formally requested of Pryor that Vallas be appointed as acting superintendent for 90 days commencing January 1, 2012. That letter was immediately followed by a second letter requesting an extension of that appointment for another 9 months from April 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012.3
The most Pryor could have extended the probationary period without violating §10-157 of the Connecticut General Statutes was for another ninety (90) days. Both written requests were contemporaneously approved by Pryor on December 23, 2011, effectively giving Vallas not only an illegal one (1) year appointment, but instant just cause for the extension of the initial term before he had even started it. So much for the highest educational official in the state implementing the educational interests of the state. 4
By some remarkable coincidence, while Vallas was still acting as a superintendent, subsections (b) and (c) of §10-157 of the Connecticut General Statutes became significantly amended, effective July 1, 2012, by Public Act 12-116:
(b) A local or regional board of education may appoint as acting superintendent a person who is or is not properly certified for a probationary period, not to exceed one school year, with the approval of the Commissioner of Education. During such probationary period such acting superintendent . . . shall successfully complete the school leadership program, approved by the state Board of Education, offered at a public or private institution of higher education in the state. At the conclusion of the probationary period, such appointing local or regional board of education may request the Commissioner to grant a waiver of certification for such acting superintendent pursuant to subsection (c) of this section.
(c) The commissioner may, upon request by an employing local or regional board of education, grant a waiver of certification to a person (1) . . . or (2) who has successfully completed a probationary period as an acting superintendent pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, and who the Commissioner deems to be exceptionally qualified for the position of superintendent. (Note deletion of the last sentence from prior subsection (c) explicating “exceptionally qualified.”)
Pryor then approved the “piggy-back” appointment of Vallas as acting superintendent for the probationary period of January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013 by letter dated January 23, 2013, even though, in effect, it gave Vallas an unprecedented and arguably illegal two (2) year trial period. 5
Soon afterward, Vallas contacted Dr. Robert Villanova, Director of the “Executive Leadership Program” at the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education in an effort to fulfill the statutory pre-requisite of passing a school leadership program so Pryor could give him a waiver of certification.
Unfortunately, Vallas could not qualify for the program because it had a fifteen (15) graduate credit course eligibility requirement. So, Villanova and Vallas concocted a three credit independent study course in district leadership for Vallas, which Villanova claimed, not credibly as far as the court was concerned, was necessary because the “Executive Leadership Program” was not appropriate for Vallas given Vallas’ extensive experience and time limitations. He made no mention to the court, however, of the fact that Vallas did not qualify to participate in the “Executive Leadership Program.”
Villanova testified that he had never been approached before to provide an independent study like the one worked out for Vallas. As it turned out, the actual course amounted to “Vallas and Villanova meet(ing) briefly in passing on one occasion, two meetings of about two hours long, and ( ) several telephone conversations.”
The Court found as a fact that Vallas never attended a class or in-person seminar, nor did he participate in any technology assisted discussions. The Court “explicitly” rejected the testimony of Villanova that their meetings or phone calls constituted the seminar and class sessions contemplated in the course description, and further rejected as not credible Villanova’s testimony that his telephone calls to Vallas constituted the technology assisted discussions’ as referenced in the course description.”6
“Vallas submitted six papers to complete the course . . . in rapid succession. . . . Villanova informed Vallas within 24 hours of each submission that his papers met or exceeded expectations. Vallas submitted his last paper by email on May 30, 2013, at approximately 12:30 p.m., and Villanova submitted a final “A” grade for Vallas that same day.”7
Pryor then reported to the State Board of Education that “the UConn Neag School of Education developed an individualized, non-certification leadership program for Vallas. Based on Pryor’s representations, the State Board approved “the school leadership program offered by the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education.”8
Upon request by the Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education, Pryor then granted Vallas a waiver, having determined that he had completed his probationary period (two times, in fact) and an approved leadership program by the State Board of Education.
The Court was not pleased. It was apparent that the State Board of Education had been duped. The Court found that “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. This independent study course was not an UConn approved program; and the course Vallas completed was not the program the State Board of Education approved.”9
In short, Vallas, Villanova of the UConn Neag School of Education, and Pryor, the Commissioner of Education, participated in a “sham” designed to circumvent the already watered down strictures of §10-157 (which, it may be recalled, was amended to remove the minimum criteria required for the commissioner to apply before granting to “would be” superintendents a waiver of certification) and the State Board of Education presumably, unwittingly fell for it.
Because Vallas did not complete a school leadership program, it was wrong for Pryor to have issued him a waiver of certification pursuant to §10-157(c); that is, Mr. Pryor’s waiver to accommodate Mr. Vallas was invalid, and the Court so held, and further “order(ed) that Paul Vallas be removed from his office.10
Déjà Vu All Over Again
On July 9, 1984, when newspapers were thicker and cost 25 cents, the New Haven Board of Education voted, upon recommendation of its superintendent, John Dow, Jr., to eliminate ten administrative positions, thereby jeopardizing the status and pay of ten school administrators. Upon further recommendation of John Dow, Jr., the New Haven Board of Education voted to commence dismissal proceedings against nine (9) other school administrators. Then, on September 21, 1984, John Dow, Jr. dropped a bombshell. He conceded that he was not certified as a superintendent when he was hired, or at any time thereafter, up to and through July 9, 1984 when the havoc he had wreaked against New Haven school administrators was approved by the board.
Judge Lester Aaronson granted the plaintiff administrators request for a permanent injunction enjoining the adverse employment actions of the superintendent.
Connecticut’s certification system is absolutely necessary to ensure that properly trained, qualified individuals serve in Connecticut’s school systems. This is especially so for superintendents who serve as the chief executive officer of the local board of education and who wield the executive authority over the school system. To have permitted Dr. Dow’s illegal employment relationship and his actions to stand would have rendered the state certification system a nullity.
Mr. Vallas also attempted to effectuate the demotion of administrators when he first became the superintendent in Bridgeport, but the illegality went deeper. It permeated the school district. The Board was illegally replaced by a state appointed board; a superintendent was hired by that Board in violation of the certification laws, which were sought to be amended twice for improper motives, once successfully, for the convenience of Mr. Vallas to serve, not as a certified superintendent, but as a superintendent exempted from the certification laws.
Unlike the New Haven situation, Mr. Vallas was facilitated by the commissioner of education and Mr. Robert Villanova, Director of the “Executive Leadership Program” at the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education and Tom DeFranco, the Dean of the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education.
Pryor and the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education are integrally involved in implementing educational reform in Connecticut, in part by bestowing waivers upon certain school districts from components of the Connecticut Guidelines for Educator Evaluation and Support and from the PEAC implementation plan.
Judge Bellis, who rendered the decision in Lopez v. Bridgeport Board of Education, was not fooled by the concerted efforts of those persons who sought to accomplish illegally that which could not be accomplished legally.
As the late Justice Felix Frankfurter stated, “And there comes a point when the courts should not be ignorant as judges of what we know as men.”11
(And, it may be added, “or women.”)
Teachers, administrators and supervisors could be, and have been, fired literally on the spot if their certificates were found to be lacking or lapsed. Because the definition of “teacher” covers only “certified” teachers, administrators and supervisors, no due process, including termination hearings, need be afforded to an employee without a proper certification before summarily terminating such individual. Termination hearings are only for teachers and administrators who are properly certified.
Even if the school administrator also had a certificate as a teacher, there would be no obligation on the part of the superintendent or the board of education to employ that individual as a teacher. That person has no greater standing than someone applying for a job as a teacher in the first instance, and the board would be free to reject such application. Moreover, any salary received by a teacher or administrator who does not hold a proper certification is subject to being paid back to the school district pursuant to §10-145 of the Connecticut General Statutes.12
The Dark Cloud Cast by the Vallas Decision Over Educational Reform in Connecticut
§10-151b of the Connecticut General Statutes, as amended, requires that superintendents of each local or regional board of education not only annually evaluate or cause to be evaluated each teacher, but that such evaluations be based on, and be conducted in accordance with, evaluation plans that meet certain state requirements. There is a process, however, where by school districts may submit permutations of the state evaluation plan to the Commissioner of Education, Mr. Pryor, who has the power to grant a waiver.
The Vallas case is not only about the ethics and integrity of granting superintendent certification waivers; it is not only about failing strictly to comply with a prescribed statutory manner of proceeding when matters of substance are involved; it is not only about the deprofessionalizing of educator leaders by offering them alternatives to certification not based on credentials and relevant experience. It is not only about advertently breaking a covenant required by law to implement the mandates in the general statutes pertaining to education.
It is also about how educational policy is controlled by the politics and behind the scenes corporate style of reform. The same players and institution in the Vallas case have influential roles to play in overseeing the state’s teacher and administrator evaluation reform, exercising seemingly unfettered discretion in giving and withholding waivers from the core requirements and the implementing of the PEAC plan. The University of Connecticut Neag School of Education representatives have tremendous freedom and subjective authority to make decisions.
“While school officials in 10 districts start observing teachers this year as part of the state’s new teacher-evaluation program, someone from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education will be observing them. . . . ‘Our job will be to determine if the model is being implemented the way it was intended and consistently,’ UCONN education Dean Thomas DeFranco (who also testified in the Vallas case) said. ‘The second thing we have been asked to do is to look at the validity of the model itself. Is the model working?”13
According to Thomas DeFranco, Dean of Neag:
Our role is to evaluate whether the model of teacher effectiveness developed by PEAC is being implemented with fidelity, as well as the validity of the model – that is, how well the model measures what it intends to measure.” 14
The power plays that were seen in the Vallas case may be par for the course in Chicago or Newark, but not here. The admonishment by Judge Aaronson 30 years ago in the Dow case has equal relevance to the players in the Vallas case, whose conduct has been exposed and who yet have major responsibilities with respect to the educational reform movement, whatever the decision of the supreme court in Vallas may be.
“This case involves more than a ministerial failure. The statutes clearly mandate proper certification. These mandates are designed to protect the integrity of the school system whose aim is to inculcate respect for lawful authority.”15
(1) Actually, Vallas did teach for a year at a Greek Orthodox grammar school some 35 years ago, where he had also been a student. And Pryor had a brief stint as a student teacher in New Haven when he was at Yale, over 20 years ago.
(2) Decision, Carmen Lopez, et al v. Bridgeport of Education, et al, Docket No. CV13-6034307S, Superior Court J.D. of Fairfield at Bridgeport (June 28, 2013), p. 2..
(3) Id., p. 4.
(4) Section 10-4a of the Conn. Gen. Stats. identifies the four (4) educational interests of the state, the fourth of which is that “the mandates in the general statutes pertaining to education within the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education be implemented.
(5) This presumes Vallas could have been legally re-appointed as acting superintendent and placed on a second probationary period pursuant to §10-157, as amended, by Pryor’s January 23, 2013 letter; however, there can be no doubt that from July 1, 2012 until at least the end of 2012, Vallas and Pryor were not in compliance with the new law.
(6) Decision, p. 7.
(7) Decision, p. 8.
(8) Decision, p. 9 (fn 11)
(9) Decision, p. 10.
(10) Decision, p. 27.
(11) Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 52 (1949).
(12) 10-145 of the Connecticut General Statutes (certification necessary to employment). Forfeiture for non-compliance . . . provides in pertinent part that “(n) o teacher, supervisor (or) administrator . . . shall be employed in any of the schools … unless such person possesses an appropriate state certificate, nor shall any such person be entitled to any salary unless such person can produce such certificate dated previous to or the first day of employment . . . .”
(13) Ctpost.com (9/7/2013).
(14) Neag’s new role in Connecticut education reform,” by Linda Conner Lambeck, blog.ctnews.com education/2012/05/21.
(15) Memorandum of Decision, School Administrators Association of New Haven v. Dow, Superior Court at New Haven, pp. 6,7.