Much remains uncertain after board fires Ramos

Published on November 5, 2011 by

When, on Oct. 12, the Bridgeport Board of Education fired Superintendent John Ramos, the school chief was unsurprised.

In an interview a week later, Ramos referred to comments he made at a June 28 rally held at Cesar A. Batalla Elementary School.

“As I indicated, anything can happen when you draw a line in the sand,” said Ramos.

The line in the sand to which Ramos had referred in June concerned funding. Ramos had convinced the school board to not approve cuts to the district’s budget, throwing the schools’ budget into limbo.

Several other lines have been drawn in the sand since: In early July the school board voted to dissolve itself. A new board was selected by acting state Commissioner of Education George Coleman, who subsequently retired. Two members of the former board, who had voted against the state takeover, took their case to the Connecticut Supreme Court. Then last month, the new board — which may be ordered to step down, should the Supreme Court find the takeover unlawful — fired the superintendent.

Ramos’s “anything” had happened.

Ramos had supported the state takeover. Despite the fact that he’s lost his job, he said he still believes in the new board.

“I can just say that I’m in agreement with the steps that are being taken,” he said. “I think the board that Commissioner Coleman has appointed absolutely gets it.”
Robert Trefry, chairman of the appointed board of education, said that the decision to terminate Ramos’s contract does not reflect negatively on the superintendent.

“He’s done some very good things,” said Trefry. “Going forward, it’s time to make a change.”

Ramos is placid when discussing his termination.

“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s important that a leader come to the table with a sense of vision.”

Trefry said that the board is looking for an administrator with experience closing the achievement gap.

The board voted Oct. 24 to appoint itself as the new superintendent search committee.
“This is the way it’s usually done now,” said Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE.) Rader visited the board to advise the members about superintendent search practices.

Trefry said that the search will likely be done with input from the public, using information gathered from community focus groups at the beginning of the search process and community input on the final few candidates at the end of the process.
How much input there will be, however, is dependent upon the board, according to Rader, who said that transparency in a superintendent search is not mandated by the state. Because a superintendent search is a personnel issue, the school board can conduct the majority of the search in closed meetings.

“Frankly, they can do 95 percent of it behind closed doors if they want to,” said Rader.
Board member David Norton was named head of the superintendent search committee. He refused to comment on the search.

The first thing the board must do, said Trefry, is hire a search firm. Other than that, no decisions have been made.

Much is up in the air, in fact.

There is still no word on who will be running the school system once Ramos leaves on Jan. 1. There is also no guarantee that the current, state-appointed board will be the ones choosing the new superintendent.

The Connecticut Supreme Court heard arguments on Thursday, Oct. 27, against the state takeover of the school board. Lawyers for Maria Pereira and Bobby Simmons, two elected board members who voted against the takeover, as well as lawyers for candidates who hoped to run this month for available seats, claimed that the board had no right to dissolve itself, and that the state should have provided training to the board members before stepping in to appoint a new board. The court now has 90 days to respond with a decision, although attorney Kevin Smith of New Haven, who represents Pereira and Simmons, said that the court may respond with a decision sooner.

In the meantime, Smith said, all those involved can do little except wait.

“Most of these questions can’t be answered, but they will become clearer once we get the court’s decision,” he said.

As for Ramos himself, he’s planning for a life after Bridgeport. After five and a half years of being the Park City’s school chief, he may try his hand at something different. Ramos said he’s thinking of teaching at the college level, though he may not quite be done with public education yet.

“There may be another superintendency in my future,” he said, “but I’m just not sure.”
Ramos’s advice to his successor is simple.

“I would like that person to know that the greatest strength of our system is its people,” he said. The district’s employees, he said, are doing the best job they can within the constraints of the system.

Then, he pinpointed the district’s greatest weakness.

“The major impediment to progress here is the empowerment that comes with resources,” said Ramos.