Rumors that Paul Vallas, the Philadelphia School District's chief executive officer, will soon be moving to the Big Easy are now easier to believe.

While Vallas yesterday began his second weeklong stint as an education consultant in New Orleans, the acting superintendent of that city's Recovery School District announced her resignation.

Philadelphia School District sources have told the Daily News that Vallas is being courted by the Louisiana Department of Education to become the next superintendent of the New Orleans district, which is still in recovery following 2005's Hurricane Katrina. An announcement could be made by Friday, the sources said.

Vallas, who last month announced he would resign at the end of this school year, was not available for comment yesterday.He has said that he was not clear about future employment but would return to his native Chicago.

"We do not have any further information on Mr. Vallas' future plans," his spokesman, Fernando Gallard, said.

Vallas' decision to step down after five years comes amid the most critical school-district budget crisis since the state took control of the 174,000-student system in December 2001.

To balance the budget for the 2007-08 school year, Vallas has proposed cutting nearly $100 million in programs and is awaiting a response from the state and city governments on a request for millions more in additional funding.

A week after Vallas' resignation announcement, Gov. Rendell and Mayor Street called a news conference to praise his stewardship as a time marked by improved student test scores and said he had agreed to stay on through the summer to help make sure the new school year starts smoothly. With the latest developments, it was unclear how long Vallas would remain in Philadelphia.

During spring break last month, Vallas spent his first week consulting for the Louisiana Department of Education. Just last week, Paul Pastorek, that state's education superintendent, said Vallas would be asked to perform up to $40,000 worth of consulting work.

"He is providing guidance to our state superintendent on how we can do things differently in teacher recruiting, facilities, academics and financially," said Meg Casper, the state education department's director of communications and legislative services. "We are basically rebuilding a school district from scratch."

She said no decision had been made on who will replace Acting Superintendent Robin Jarvis, who said yesterday that she will leave the job she has held for 18 months by the end of May to spend more time with her family.

Before the hurricane, New Orleans had 128 schools serving 60,000 students, Casper said. To date, 39 schools serving 17,600 students have been reopened under the state-created Recovery School District.

The district's new leader will have an immediate goal of opening enough schools to accommodate the 40,000 students who are estimated to be enrolled this fall, Casper said. *