Vallas' departure date in question

Vallas' departure date in question

Posted in the Trumbull Forum


Matawan, NJ

#1 Jan 6, 2014
BRIDGEPORT -- Paul Vallas has officially resigned as the city's school chief, but he remains at odds with the school board over his departure date.

Vallas told the board in a letter dated Dec. 31, 2013, that his last day with the district will be March 1, 2014. The letter was received Monday by the district office.

The new school board, meanwhile, expects him gone by Feb. 7 -- two months after it accepted his verbal resignation.

At issue is a request by Vallas for health insurance coverage through June.

Steven Nemerovski, Vallas' attorney, said his client may be willing to end his employment earlier in exchange for an extension of his health insurance benefits, according to board attorneys.

Board Chairwoman Sauda Baraka, who is standing by the Feb. 7 date, called the request a "stick up" in an email to board attorney Donald Houston.

The board met in executive session with one of its attorneys, Stephen Sedor, on the issue Friday evening, but read correspondences between themselves and board attorneys into the record before closing the meeting to the public.

They took no votes, and a letter from board attorney Stephen Sedor prior to the meeting indicates the board has no interest taking Vallas up on his offer.

Beyond the insurance request, correspondence between Baraka and Durant, Nichols, Houston, the legal firm that has represented the board for more than 40 years, also suggest some concern about who they were advising in the matter. Vallas reportedly asked board attorneys during a meeting to discuss collective bargaining issues about his resignation, board attorneys told the board.

In a letter to Baraka, Donald Houston, a board attorney said his firm made it crystal clear to Vallas that they represented the board, not him. No one in the firm initiated discussions with Vallas regarding his employment rights, Houston told Baraka.

The board is scheduled to meet Jan. 15 to interview candidates for an interim superintendent who presumably would start on Feb. 8.

Vallas, on Monday, said he had no comment on the matter.

"My letter of resignation speaks for itself," he said. "I am following the contract unconditionally."

Vallas was brought to the district for what was to be on a temporary basis in December 2011 when a state-appointed school board was in charge of the district.

Formerly head of school districts in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, his assignment was to seal a multimillion budget deficit and give the district a five year plan that would help it improve student achievement. He ended up staying longer and was eventually offered a three-year contract.

His credentials to hold the job on a permanent basis in Connecticut were challenged, however, and when a new board was elected last fall, it was clear a majority of the new panel wanted Vallas replaced.

On Nov. 8, 2013, Vallas announced he would leave to run as Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's running mate in that state's 2014 gubernatorial election.

He later told the board that announcement was not a formal notice of resignation.

The contract between Vallas and the board requires the board to pay Vallas a year's salary --$234,000 -- if they asked him to leave.

Since Vallas announced his intentions to leave on his own, only a 60-day notice is required.

A March 1 departure date would give him three additional weeks of pay, about $13,500 more than he would receive if he left Feb. 7. Tacking on four months of health insurance payments beyond that would have cost the district about $1,700, according to some board members.

Board member Hernan Illingworth called the entire situation unnecessary.

"All we are talking about is four months of insurance," Illingworth said. "Unfortunately we often give away much more."

When John Ramos, the last schools superintendent had his contract terminated in 2011, he left with a year's salary and health insurance coverage through age 65.

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