More lies by Paul Vallas

While Paul Vallas is long gone from Chicago, his legacy of lies and political scandals lives on across the USA, as well as in Chicago itself. Most recently, one of the small scandals Vallas was supposed to have cleaned up has come back, this time in the form of a finalist for the top schools job in Milwaukee, following his failure to get the job in Seattle, Washington. According to the Seattle Times, a disciplinary action that Vallas promised against his former Chief Academic Officer in Philadelphia never took place, and now that Vallas is being asked about it, he has admitted that he promised it mainly to blow smoke in the eyes of media critics.

According to an April 5, 2007 story from Seattle, Gregory Thornton, who was Paul Vallas's Chief Academic Officer in Philadelphia, took a trip to Africa that was paid for, in part, by Plato Learning Systems. A few months after the trip, Plato received a contract for nearly a million dollars on Thornton's recommendation. When the scandal became public, Vallas told the press he would discipline Thornton, but he never did.

According to an article published Thursday, April 5, 2007 entitled Gregory Thornton took a trip to Africa in 2004 that he said he partly paid for (By Mike Carter, Seattle Times staff reporter)...

"Nearly three years ago, Philadelphia schools chief Paul Vallas promised to discipline his chief academic officer, Gregory Thornton, after it was revealed that Thornton had taken a junket to South Africa that was partly paid for by a school contractor," The Seattle Times reported.

But Vallas never disciplined his officer, and when contacted from Seattle later, he called the conflict of interest allegations from Philadelphia "hogwash."

"Thornton found himself under scrutiny after The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that he and another employee had taken a trip to Africa in June 2004 with the National Association of Black School Educators," the Seattle Times reporter in 2007. "The trip was partly subsidized by Plato Leaning Inc... Thornton was hired by Vallas the same month and started his job in Philadelphia in July 2004. Five months later, he signed off on a no-bid, $926,000 contract to Plato to provide educational software..."

Despite numerous questions about "ethics" and personal bankruptcy, Milwaukee's school board unanimously voted to make Thornton its superintendent in January 2010. Thornton's term is set to begin July 1, 2010.

The story follows:

The Milwaukee School Board voted unanimously Friday to elect Philadelphia native Gregory Thornton as the next superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, despite the candidate's history of personal bankruptcy and questions that have been raised about his ethics.

The 9-0 vote, which came just after 7 p.m., will likely secure Thornton as the next chief of the state's largest school district, at a starting salary of $260,000 for a two-year term that will begin July 1.

The other candidates for the superintendent position had included Stacy Scott of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland and Robert Alfaro of Clark County School District in Las Vegas, but Alfaro withdrew his application from the School Board's consideration Friday because of personal reasons, according to the MPS Office of Board Governance.

Board President Michael Bonds will further negotiate the terms of Thornton's employment agreement, which will be drafted by the city attorney's office and presented to the School Board for final approval on or before Feb. 20.

"He's received praise for his academic work in Philly, and he's taken on major challenges in urban districts," Bonds said, adding that Thornton's bankruptcy filing "wasn't a factor" for board members, as Thornton's professional accomplishments, history of working his way up through various school districts and solid references secured his position as the lead candidate.

The board's vote comes at a time when the state Legislature is considering a bill that could change the governance structure of MPS to allow the mayor of Milwaukee to choose the district superintendent.

Mayor's view

Mayor Tom Barrett said Friday that the governance issue is still alive, despite the board's action.

Thornton, in his mid-50s, is superintendent of the 7,800-student Chester Upland School District in southeastern Pennsylvania. Thornton previously held high-level administrative posts in the 140,000-student Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, as well as in the 180,000-student School District of Philadelphia, where he became chief academic officer in 2004.

In MPS, Thornton will lead a district with a budget of more than $1 billion, but he has struggled with finances in his personal life. Records show that Thornton filed for individual bankruptcy in 1997 in North Carolina, a matter that caused him to be dropped from a superintendent search in Bloomfield Public Schools in Connecticut in 2001, according to an editorial in The Harford Courant newspaper.

The newspaper also said that Thornton confirmed a report at that time that he had falsely identified his wife as a hospital administrator in Hartford.

When serving in Philadelphia, Thornton was involved in an ethical issue regarding money. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Thornton took a trip to Africa that was partially paid for by an educational services company and then later, after he was hired by the Philadelphia district, signed off on a no-bid contract for that same company to provide more than $900,000 in services to the district.

Thornton was not charged with any wrongdoing in that case.

Praising assets

In terms of professional strengths, MPS School Board Vice President Peter Blewett said one of Thornton's assets was his ability to connect with parents and community groups.

"The board's looking for the right person to make Milwaukee Public Schools the star of the nation, and this guy has the key ingredients," Blewett said. "A couple of my constituents were excited about the possibility of him being superintendent because he promised to have coffee with parents."

Mike Langyel, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, said the union is looking forward to working with Thornton, and hopes the selection of the new superintendent will give the district "the opportunity for a fresh start."

"As educators, we have been very clear about the reforms we think are necessary to help our students: smaller classes, safe learning environments, strong leadership and supports, meaningful professional development, rigorous curriculum, and a well-structured school day and year," Langyel said. "We trust that Thornton shares our perspective on the issues."

Barrett said Friday that the selection of the new superintendent was not going to make him walk away from emphasizing the academic and financial problems in MPS.

He also said that the unusual timing of the School Board's special meeting — members rarely gather on a Friday night — shows that members were rushing to try to beat the clock on potential action in the state Legislature that could take away the School Board's power to select the superintendent.

"It sure looks like it's all orchestrated to act before the Legislature takes up either bill, both of which contemplate a change in the superintendent selection process," Barrett said.

Bonds said the School Board has planned all along to choose the next superintendent by Feb. 1.


May 9, 2010 at 2:45 AM

By: kugler

Crooks Hire Crooks

seems like a common theme now in public education is to hire the worst qualified administrators for the job so there can be rampant privatization and theft of public resources by corporate america.

this guy thornton probably could not qualify getting a macdonalds job with his employment and bankruptcy record .

look who we have in chicago.

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