Gary education board member seeks dismissal of Ritz suit
By TOM LoBIANCO October 24, 2013 12:12PM
Updated: October 24, 2013 11:34PM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A member of the State Board of Education asked a Marion County judge Wednesday to throw out a lawsuit filed this week by Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz in Indiana’s ongoing education battle.
Ritz sued the 10 governor-appointed board members Tuesday, claiming they violated Indiana’s open meetings law when they circumvented her last week in seeking school performance results for the 2012-13 school year. The board members, a mix of Republicans and Democrats, wrote a letter last week to the leaders of the General Assembly asking the bill-drafting Legislative Services Agency to run the school grades.
Each school in Indiana is graded on an A-F scale based on their students’ test performance and graduation rates.
The members said Ritz is dragging her feet because she doesn’t want to release the grades, but Ritz’s office has said it does not have the data needed to calculate the grades. Delays have been caused in part by the ISTEP standardized testing problems earlier in the spring and by a scandal over the school evaluation system.
Tony Walker, a Democratic member of the board, filed the request for dismissal Wednesday. In it, he argues that Ritz does not establish a basis for suing him. A spokeswoman for the state board said she was unfamiliar with the latest motion.
Tensions between Ritz, a Democrat who unseated Bennett in last year’s election, and the board members, including many close Bennett allies, have been growing throughout the year. The lawsuit marked the sharpest escalation yet in the ongoing power struggle.
Democratic legislative leaders said Tuesday that the board’s latest move is an effort to “sidestep the law” by taking away the grades from the Department of Education. But Republican staffers, meanwhile, began circulating a video clip of Ritz at a state board meeting saying she would welcome the Legislative Services Agency’s help with the grades.
“Actually, the department is more than excited about doing a check. That just makes sure what we are going to release is correct,” Ritz said in the video, during a presentation from the pair of investigators who reviewed Bennett’s changes to the grading formula.
The A-F grades are used to calculate teacher pay and school funding, as well as to determine if schools face a state takeover. The current grading formula is being re-crafted by a bipartisan panel of educators and political officials.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, appeared to request that LSA deliver the grades directly to the state board in their letter approving the move: “We would appreciate LSA providing the A-F calculations to the Board as soon as possible, so that the Board can prepare to issue grades expeditiously.”
But some board members have said their intention was only to have LSA run the grades, while leaving the final issuing with the Department of Education.