Bridgeport lessons

An embarrassing turn of events for Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the State Board of Education in Bridgeport should serve as a reminder that rules have to be followed, even in a rush to improve performance in a struggling urban school system.

In 2011 the state board took over the Bridgeport Board of Education, ousting the elected board with the acquiescence of a majority of the board's members. The state Supreme Court later ruled the takeover was illegal because the state board failed to take a step mandated by law - providing the elected board a chance to obtain training to improve performance. Only when training fails is the state free to act, the high court ruled.

In the short time that the state-appointed board was in place, however, it named a new superintendent, Paul Vallas.

Mr. Pryor played a major role in bringing in Mr. Vallas to right the troubled Bridgeport school district. His record is an impressive one, having led reform efforts in the Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans school systems. His salary befits the resume, $234,000 annually, and he has received much public support during his first 17 months leading the 21,000-student system.

But last Friday a Superior Court judge ruled Mr. Vallas is not qualified to continue serving as superintendent.

In Connecticut superintendents must receive state board certification, with requirements including a master's degree, 30 credits in courses related to superintendent duties, and eight years of teaching or administrative experience. In lieu of these requirements, the state board can grant a one-year waiver for the superintendent to complete an "educational leadership program" approved by the state board.

Judge Barbara Bellis ruled, however, that the independent study program created for Mr. Vallas at the University of Connecticut was a charade "with requirements of classes, seminars, and technology assisted discussions that simply did not take place."

"There is no doubt that Vallas received preferential treatment," wrote Judge Bellis, who order the superintendent "removed from his office."

He remains on the job, however, pending appeal.

The state board and Mr. Pryor, who allowed Mr. Vallas to cut corners in lieu of legitimate certification, share significant blame.

Education officials in New London, a city where the state has also intervened, should watch closely. The New London school board is undergoing training. Expected soon is a report from state-appointed Special Master Steven Adamowski recommending what steps should come next for city schools.

Whatever those steps may be, we suggest Mr. Pryor and other state education officials learn the lessons of Bridgeport and make sure expediency never trumps protocol.

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