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Schools Chief Says Bridgeport, Conn., Reforms On Track Despite Court Ruling

No school board, no problem, says Paul G. Vallas, the former Philadelphia and New Orleans schools chief who accepted a interim appointment to run the 20,000-student Bridgeport, Conn. district. In an interview, he said reforms are continuing in the struggling school system despite a state Supreme Court ruling this week that said Connecticut's takeover of the district was invalid.

"It wasn't unexpected," Mr. Vallas said.

On Tuesday, the court overturned the state takeover, saying Connecticut failed to follow the law by not retraining the school board before seizing control of the district. The required retraining is aimed at helping school boards' improve their operations as a last step before resorting to state takeover.

The district's school board had voted 6-3 in July to turn the district over to state control. But board members on the losing end of that vote challenged the decision. The court ruling is available on the Connecticut Post website.

The ruling means that Bridgeport has to hold a special school board election, and the state-appointed board will serve until that elected board is certified. But Vallas said he has already made progress paring down the district's debt, and plans to introduce an academic reform plan by the end of this month.

"The bottom line for me is, on March 26, our balanced five-year budget plan will be done and we will be presenting to the community a reform plan we think will be strongly embraced," he said. The court ruling "is a speed bump," he added.

But he said observers should not expect the reform plan to look exactly like the Recovery School District which took over most of the schools in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and turned them into charters.

"We're going to do a combination of things to improve these schools," Vallas said, "transforming existing schools as well as reconstituting some."

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