Paul G. Vallas, the public-finance whiz who led the Chicago schools in an era of profound change for the district, has applied to run Philadelphia’s schools as the Pennsylvania district struggles for academic and financial health.
Mr. Vallas, who in March lost the Democratic primary for governor of Illinois, confirmed in a phone interview last week that he submitted his credentials several weeks ago to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.
That panel, which has been running the nation’s eighth-largest district since the state assumed control in December, hopes to choose a chief executive officer by the end of this month.
It’s not the only job that interests Mr. Vallas, though. He also has applied to become state superintendent of schools in Illinois, replacing interim Superintendent Respicio Vazquez. Mr. Vallas met two weeks ago with the state board’s chairman, Ronald J. Gidwitz.
“I’m interested in a superintendency. I’m still interested in staying involved in education,” Mr. Vallas said. “After all the years I spent in education, it makes sense to apply for more than one job.”
In both cases, Mr. Vallas said, the jobs sought him out. Members of Illinois Gov. George H. Ryan’s staff approached him about the state post, he said, and the Philadelphia search committee got in touch with him about the position in that city.
In applying for the Philadelphia job, Mr. Vallas is not only expressing interest, but also initiating an inquiry of his own, he said. He wants to clarify the chain of command and the extent of the chief executive officer’s authority in light of the state’s control.
The fact that Philadelphia is changing, with various private groups readying themselves to run scores of low-performing schools, doesn’t bother Mr. Vallas. Leading Chicago’s schools from 1995, when they were first placed under mayoral control, to 2001 was no walk in the park either, he said.
“I don’t think there was anything more controversial at the time than the changes in Chicago,” he said. “Clearly, I’m used to coming into evolving situations.”
When Mr. Vallas testified in New York City in February before a City Council committee about a possible shift to mayoral control of schools there, tongues wagged that his visit doubled as a feeler for the chancellor’s job. Not so, said Mr. Vallas, though it’s a job he wouldn’t mind having.
“They already have a chancellor,” he said of Harold O. Levy. “If the New York position ever opened up, would it interest me? Yes.”
—Catherine Gewertz firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2002 edition of Education Week