The Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the ruling of a judge who found Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas didn't meet state requirements to hold his job and ordered his ouster.
Vallas, however, already has decided to leave the post to be Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's running mate for the 2014 election. He hasn't set a date for his departure.
Critics of Vallas, including former state Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez, sued him and state and Bridgeport education officials in April, saying Vallas improperly received a waiver of state certification requirements for school superintendents. Although he previously led big city school districts in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, Vallas wasn't certified to be a school superintendent in Connecticut.
Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis agreed with Lopez, ruling in July that an educational leadership course Vallas took to receive the certification waiver wasn't adequate and that he should be removed from the job he took in January 2012. The ruling was stayed pending Vallas' appeal.
But the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Bellis lacked jurisdiction to rule on the issue because Vallas' critics were required under state law to bring their challenge of his credentials to state education officials first before going to court. The court didn't rule on whether the course Vallas took was adequate. Justices ordered the lawsuit dismissed.
Vallas and lawyers in the case didn't immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.
Vallas, 60, a Chicago native and nationally known school reformer, has never taken any graduate courses in education, but has a long background in the field. He ran Chicago Public Schools from 1995 until 2001 before narrowly losing the 2002 Democratic nomination for Illinois governor to now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
At issue in the Connecticut lawsuit was a state law that was changed last year to allow Vallas and other educators to bypass the usual route of superintendent certification by completing a "school leadership program." The program must be approved by the state Board of Education and be offered at a public or private college or university in the state.
Earlier this year, Vallas completed an independent study course at the University of Connecticut that was approved by the state Education Board. He received an "A," and state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor - Vallas' friend who recruited him to Connecticut - approved a certification waiver. Vallas denied the lawsuit's allegations and said he met state requirements.
But Bellis ruled that the independent study course was not a UConn-approved "school leadership program," wasn't the program that was approved by the state Education Board and was specially designed by Vallas and a UConn official.
Lopez alleged that Vallas received preferential treatment by state education officials including Pryor and was held to lower standards than other superintendent candidates. Pryor and city education officials were dropped from the lawsuit earlier this year.