This dispatch comes from my colleague Lesli Maxwell, who has done a fabulous job covering recovery and reform efforts in New Orleans’ public schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As part of this special project, she’s spent nearly nine weeks in the city on several different trips, getting to know the students, teachers, and the man who is running the schools of New Orleans.
Now that the Chicago media have reported that Paul Vallas, superintendent of the Recovery School District in New Orleans, is “open to running again” for governor in his home state of Illinois, there will be no tamping down speculation in the Crescent City that the hard-charging schools chief is a short-timer. Today, picking up on reports of the speech that Vallas gave in Chicago on Monday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune has a story that raises good questions about who might succeed Mr. Vallas and whether his political aspirations might distract him from running the city’s post-Katrina system of low-performing schools. Rumors about Vallas’ political ambitions began swirling soon after he got to New Orleans last summer, though some have been wilder than others. One charter school leader told me last fall that she heard that Vallas was sizing up whether to run for mayor of New Orleans! When I first asked Vallas about his gubernatorial plans early last fall, he was cagey, saying that he was committed to New Orleans and any talk of his next step would be premature. I let a few months pass, and asked him again. He was still coy, but was willing to say that he’d be weighing the idea for the next six to eight months. Well, that deadline is approaching, and with his public statements in Chicago, it seems pretty clear that he wants folks (i.e. Democratic fundraisers!) to know that he is considering another run at the job. He narrowly lost the Democratic nomination to current Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2002. Plus, his wife and sons already live in Chicago. And, he’s been frank about his intentions to stay in New Orleans not much past two years, enough time, he believes, to stabilize the troubled post-Katrina school system and set in motion some lasting reforms. On that timeline, he would be out of New Orleans in summer of 2009, plenty of time to put a campaign together for the 2010 race.