Updated: November 26, 2013 6:37AM
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz faces a substantial hurdle with her lawsuit against the State Board of Education as Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed a motion Thursday to strike the appearances of the Department of Education attorneys.
The motion states that Zoeller, under state law, has the sole legal authority to represent state officials and agencies in court or permit outside counsel to do so. Attorneys Bernice A.N. Corley and Michael G. Moore are representing Ritz in her suit, which claims that members of the State Board of Education violated the state’s open-door law by drafting a letter suggesting that the Legislative Services Agency take over the responsibility of computing the state’s A-F grades for schools.
“In-house agency lawyers cannot appear in court on behalf of the State,” the motion states, thus arguing that the DOE attorneys’ appearances and their complaint filed Tuesday are “unauthorized and invalid.”
Zoeller said he has taken no side in Ritz’s complaint or the policy disagreement between Ritz and the board. Zoeller’s spokesman, Bryan Corbin, said Zoeller is not representing the board members named in the suit but state government itself. Zoeller emphasized that proper legal procedure must be followed and that he will assist officials in trying to reach an out-of-court resolution.
The motion to strike was filed in Marion County Circuit Court, but no hearings have been scheduled nor has the court ruled.
Later Thursday, Ritz held a news conference at which she vowed to continue her legal fight, Indianapolis television station WISH-TV reported.
The 10 governor-appointed 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 board members complained that Ritz was dragging her feet in compiling the school grades. But Ritz’s staff have said they do not have the data yet to issue the grades. Delays in releasing the grades have been caused in part by the ISTEP standardized testing problems earlier in the spring and by a scandal over the school evaluation system.
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. 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 recrafted 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.