You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.
Advertisement

Ritz sues GOP education board

Claims draft of A-F letter broke Open Door Law

Ritz

– An ongoing feud between the Republican state Board of Education and Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz boiled over Tuesday when she sued the board in state court alleging an open-meetings law violation.

The lawsuit names the 10 members of the board and alleges they broke Indiana’s Open Door Law by taking action in secret to draft a letter they sent to Senate President Pro Tem David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma last week.

The letter asked Long and Bosma to instruct the Legislative Services Agency to perform calculations to determine the 2012-13 A-F grades for Indiana schools.

The suit alleges that no public notice was issued for a meeting that allowed for this action and that Ritz was not made aware of this action until after it was taken despite her role as chairwoman of the State Board of Education.

“While I respect the commitment and expertise of members of the board individually, I feel they have over-stepped their bounds,” Ritz said in a prepared statement. “Since my inauguration, I have worked tirelessly to communicate openly with the board and the public. I do not take this action lightly, but my obligations as elected state superintendent require it.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Mike Pence came out in support of the State Board of Education following the lawsuit filing Tuesday.

“Gov. Pence strongly supports the actions taken by the bipartisan membership of the State Board of Education to ensure the timely completion of last year’s A-F school accountability grades,” Communications Director Christy Denault said.

“The governor is confident that all relevant Indiana laws were followed. Because teachers and schools depend on these letter grades for salary increases, performance bonuses and federal funding, the governor will continue to work in good faith with the State Board of Education and the Indiana Department of Education to get the job done for our schools and our kids.”

For now, the Indiana Department of Education won’t release test scores and other data needed for the Legislative Services Agency to calculate new A-F rankings.

That move blocks an attempt by Long and Bosma to speed up this year’s accountability grades for schools.

The Republican legislative leaders sent along the state board’s request to the LSA on Friday, asking the agency to begin work immediately to provide the A-F calculations to the state board so it could review them and prepare them for an expedited release.

But the Democratic-led Indiana Department of Education said there is no data to share with LSA until the rescore window for contested ISTEP+ results closes Nov. 5.

Asked whether the Department of Education would then provide the data to LSA, spokesman Daniel Altman said, “We’ll address that then.”

Altman said that after the rescores are finished, preliminary A-F rankings will be calculated and released privately to schools, which then have the right to appeal the accountability rankings.

The A-F grades could be ready by Thanksgiving.

The entire process has been slowed by major testing interruptions in the spring that initially called into question the validity of the scores, which are a primary basis for the accountability rankings.

And the situation is heightened by the ongoing battle between the board and Ritz.

Bosma and Long said Monday they don’t believe the Department of Education needs to wait to give the data to LSA, saying preliminary ranks can be calculated and tweaked after the rescores are decided.

They say they fear that if the process pushes into 2014, they could miss state and federal requirements to have annual accountability rankings.

“I’m taking the side of the schools and the kids and the teachers,” Long said, adding that teacher evaluations and raises are being held up because of the delay.

“We can do some analysis before the rescore appeals are done.”

Last year, then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, a Republican, did not release A-F rankings until Halloween amid a heated election race. Neither the state board, nor Bosma and Long, intervened then.

Bennett was defeated by Ritz in the November election.

Bosma said Ritz is nowhere near a Halloween release this year. And he said this year is different because an outside nonpartisan report looking into possible discrepancies with last year’s A-F grades recommended the legislature have the ability to run the grades.

Both Long and Bosma acknowledge Ritz doesn’t have to hand the data over but point to positive remarks she made at the October education board meeting about working in tandem with LSA.

“The department is more than excited about doing a check. That just makes sure that what we are going to release is correct. It’s been checked and double checked going forward,” Ritz said about outside involvement by LSA.

It appears the issue comes down to when the data is turned over – before or after the Department of Education has made its own calculations.

State Board of Education member Cari Whicker said she doesn’t understand the continued delays. She said an independent consultant deemed the ISTEP+ test scores valid in late July. But they weren’t released to parents and schools until early September.

Given the current process, she said a special meeting might be required in December to approve the A-F grades.

“We are told things are coming. Honestly, a lot of times we aren’t told anything. We ask for things, request info and dates. Whether it’s intentional or not, we don’t get a lot of feedback,” said Whicker, a middle school teacher in Huntington.

She doesn’t want to take away Ritz’s authority to run the calculations. Instead, she just wants the LSA to have access to the numbers so they can be prepared for the release.

“The big concern is we are statutorily obligated to give out A-F grades, so we feel this sense of responsibility,” Whicker said.

nkelly@jg.net

Advertisement