INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana schools chief Glenda Ritz says
the State Board of Education violated state law by secretly drafting a
letter to top lawmakers asking them to have legislative analysts calculate
grades for schools instead of her department.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that 10 members of the board
violated the Open Door Law last week when they asked Senate President Pro
Tempore David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma to have the Legislative
Services Agency calculate the grades for 2012-2013. Both signed off on
the request Friday.
The release of the grades has been delayed amid an overhaul
of the formula, which figured prominently in a grade-changing scandal
involving former state schools chief Tony Bennett.
Bennett resigned as Florida's schools chief in August after
The Associated Press reported he had overhauled Indiana's grading formula
after a charter school founded by a top Republican donor received a low
grade. That school, which Bennett routinely cited as a top-performer,
received an A under the revised formula. Other schools also saw
The lawsuit also illustrates growing tensions between
Republicans and Ritz, the lone Democrat holding a statewide office in
Indiana. Since Ritz defeated Bennett last November, lawmakers have
her power, a Bennett ally on the board has taken control of long-term
planning for the group and Gov. Mike Pence created a second education agency
charged with shaping education policy along with job-training initiatives.
Ritz chairs the State Board of Education, but all its members
were appointed by Pence or former Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate blasted the state
board's move in a statement Tuesday.
"Instead of working with the department, the Pence-appointed
Board of Education has prodded Republican legislative leadership to subvert
the process, and in doing so, unashamedly trampled state law and politicized
the traditionally non-partisan Legislative Services Agency," Sen. Tim Lanane
and Rep. Scott Pelath said.
Ritz, who serves as chairwoman of the education board, said
the members "over-stepped their bounds" and ignored state law requiring
public notice for the meeting in which the letter was drafted.
"I do not take this action lightly, but my obligations as
elected state superintendent require it," she said in a statement.
Christy Denault, a spokeswoman for Pence, said the governor
supported the state board's actions and is "confident that all relevant
Indiana laws were followed."
Republican leaders have been frustrated with the slow release
of the grades. The rankings are based largely on ISTEP+ scores, which were
delayed after computer issues knocked thousands of students offline
during the test this spring.
Ritz spokesman David Galvin says the review of the Bennett
grade-change scandal further pushed the timeline for releasing grades to
The Department of Education says no data will be available to
share with the Legislative Services Agency until Nov. 5, the deadline for
rescoring disputed tests.
Bosma and Long told The Journal Gazette on Monday that
preliminary rankings could be calculated and then tweaked after the rescores
are decided. Long said teacher evaluations and raises are being held up
because of the delay.
State Board of Education member Cari Whicker said she doesn't
want to strip Ritz of her authority to run the calculations.
"The big concern is we are statutorily obligated to give out
A-F grades, so we feel this sense of responsibility," Whicker said.