Court overturns Vallas ouster
Posted in the Trumbull Forum
#1 Nov 14, 2013
HARTFORD -- It is all but moot, but the Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday ruled unanimously that a lower court overstepped its bounds when it determined Paul Vallas was not qualified to serve as school superintendent.
The court decision found that the trial court, which ruled Vallas ineligible, exceeded it bounds by overstepping a decision that was the state Board of Education and Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor's to make.
In an opinion written by Justice Flemming L. Norcott, Jr., the high court agreed with Vallas that the court should not have been used to second guess a decision that was Pryor's to make. The proper channel to challenge the decision, it was ruled, should have been to appeal to the agency that made the decision.
"Because the quo warranto action was not properly before the court, the Supreme Court could not decide whether Vallas had completed a school leadership program that satisfied Connecticut law," the court ruled.
The Supreme Court directed the trial court to dismiss this case.
Steven Ecker, an attorney for Vallas, said the decision shows who really was wasting taxpayers' money by bringing the challenge before seeking an administrative remedy. "A lot of arrows have been flung at Vallas by folks. That he wasn't following the law," Ecker said. "Guess who wasn't following the law? This lawsuit never should have been filed."
Norman Pattis, an attorney for Carmen Lopez, a retired superior court judge who was one of the plaintiffs, said he is disappointed by the ruling, but grateful that Vallas has decided to leave Connecticut. "He'll call this a win, but close students of the case will never forget that the trial court found his testimony to lack credibility," Pattis said. "We wish him well in his run for public office, and urge him to begin the campaign tomorrow, far, far away from Bridgeport."
Vallas said he had no comment on the decision. His qualifications to hold the office were challenged after the departing school board offered him a three-year contract. Vallas has run school districts in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans but lacks an administrator's certificate required to hold the job long term in Connecticut.
The state passed a law allowing Vallas to receive a waiver of the certification process. Lopez, a city resident, went to court claiming the process was not followed and a lower court agreed with her. Judge Barbara Bellis ordered Vallas out of office immediately. The matter was appealed and the court allowed Vallas to remain in office while it considered the case.
The decision comes almost a week after it was announced that Vallas is leaving the state to run for lieutenant governor of Illinois as Gov. Pat Quinn's running mate. Days earlier, a school board election was held that guarantees a majority of board members who want to replace Vallas.
Vallas has not said exactly when he is leaving. His contract gives him a 60-day notice period. A new school board, sworn in on Dec. 9, is made up of members who want a new schools chief for the district.
Pryor, who was instrumental in bringing Vallas to the state, did not immediate respond to a request for comment.
Mayor Bill Finch, a big Vallas supporter said he was immensely gratified by the Supreme Court decision.
"This ruling means that Connecticut municipalities can now recruit innovative leaders like Paul Vallas who can give our kids new books, new laptops, and a strong curriculum and teacher supports that will allow our students to excel and have the kind of world-class education they so richly deserve," Finch said.
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