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Schools chief Ritz files suit against state board of education

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Indiana's Democratic schools chief and its Republican education board are now in an all-out brawl.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz swung the latest punch Tuesday, filing a lawsuit that accuses 10 members of the State Board of Education – all of whom were appointed by Republican governors – of violating state law in a secret effort to undermine her.

The reason she's upset: Board members, who favor the education reform policies that Ritz opposes, drafted a letter last week and sent it to GOP legislative leaders seeking to take the A-F school grading process out of the hands of Ritz's Department of Education.

That violated the state’s Open Door Law, Ritz said, and forced her to file suit.

“I do not take this action lightly,” Ritz said in a prepared statement about the lawsuit, which was filed in Marion Circuit Court. “But my obligations as elected state superintendent require it.”

It’s the latest in a political and public policy skirmish between Ritz, the board and other GOP officials that began when she won the office in November, ousting Republican Tony Bennett, who had been expected to win easily.

Since then, Republicans and the GOP-appointed education board have taken steps to weaken Ritz’s authority and work around the Department of Education.
Last week, the board sent a letter to Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and asked them to assign the Legislative Services Agency the task of determining A-F grades for schools, even though state law gives the job to the Department of Education.

Ritz said no public notice was issued for a meeting that would have allowed for the action and that she was not made aware it until later, despite her role as the board’s chair.  The lawsuit accuses the board of using staff at the new Center for Education and Career Innovation – which Republican Gov. Mike Pence created in part to staff the education board – of helping carry out what she deems illegal actions.

The agency’s staff did not immediately return a request for comment.

“When I was sworn in to office, I took an oath to uphold the laws of the state of Indiana,” Ritz said in a statement. “I take this oath very seriously and I was dismayed to learn that other members of the state board have not complied with the requirements of the law. While I respect the commitment and expertise of members of the board individually, I feel they have over-stepped their bounds.”

The suit asks the court to prevent board members from meeting secretly and to prevent the Legislative Services Agency from working on the A-F grades.

The letter to legislative leader was dated Oct. 16 and was signed by the 10 board members. The members said they were concerned that the Department of Education was taking too long to develop the grades as well as teacher effectiveness ratings as required under state law.

Two days later, Long and Bosma sent a letter to the director of the Legislative Services Agency telling him to start working on the grading system. A spokeswoman for Bosma said Tuesday that he would not have a comment on the lawsuit.

The state’s Open Door Law is meant to ensure that government boards and commissions do their work in public. It says that a public meeting is any gathering of the majority of the members of a board if official action is taken.

It defines official action as receiving information, deliberating, making recommendations, establishing policy, making decisions or taking final actions. In those cases, the board must post notice and an agenda and allow the public to attend.

Ritz said in the lawsuit that the action taken by the education board members would not have fit under any of the exemptions outlined by the Open Door Law.

“Since my inauguration, I have worked tirelessly to communicate openly with the board and the public,” Ritz said. “I look forward to continuing to work to improve education for all Indiana students in a fair, transparent and collaborative manner.”

The Department of Education is using in-house attorneys for the lawsuit.

A spokesman for Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who represents various state agencies, boards and the legislature in lawsuits, did not have an immediate comment.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Mike Pence did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the suit.

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  • Lawsuit is Illegal
    Ritz used in-house counsel to file the lawsuit, which is illegal. She should have worked through the State Attorney General's office. The lawsuit will be dismissed.
  • Etiquette Please
    Citizen, Where are your manners?
    • Not Sure Board Members Understand Their Roles
      I just watched the video of portions of the Oct 2nd Board meeting. A couple of the newer members seem to raise issues in a political manner that could be divisive. In addition, some Board members did not seem to understand their role--they appeared to think they are the decision makers rather than overseers of education policy implementation. I could certainly see how Supt Ritz feels like politics and back door maneuvering is working against here given the make-up of the Board. I would not want her position if I had to work with a Board that seemed to be opposed, or at best neutral, on what she is trying to accomplish. I have no dog in any of the fights over common core etc. I am reacting to what I observed on the video.
    • Disrespect
      The State Board of Education has repeatedly overstepped their bounds in an attempt to circumvent due process governing the decisions made for education in the state of Indiana. This suit is the "last resort" that the superintendent had to mitigate the board's inappropriate actions. They are NOT acting within the confines of the Open Door Law. That comes at the expense of the voters and taxpayers. All of the State Board meetings are public knowledge. Check it out for yourself: http://media.doe.in.gov/sbe/2013-10.html These videos show the utter disrespect the superintendent faces with this board. Check out Part 1, about 36 mins into the video. You'll see the political "strong-arming" that is taking place. This is just one example. She is being ganged up on by a few of the board members ongoing. One of those board members is so fond of himself; he thinks the board members deserve some sort of recognition! What?! So, let me get this straight, you want a plaque for being a part of all the recent corruption, and for NOT doing your job, which is what you'll see here in this video-how much time is wasted (filibustered) by these board members? This is just one video. It's time the public knows and stands up to it!!
    • Lawyers
      Mrs. Ritz is using in-house counsel, already employed through the DOE. This was done purposefully to keep from costing the tax payers additional money.
    • Hilarious
      "All lawyers are Democrats"? Ha! Debating is so much easier when you can just make up the facts, am I right? Besides, in Indiana, the Democrats aren't even Democrats. Face it, folks, Ritz won more votes than Pence, so if you truly believe in the supposedly Republican tenets of "will of the people" and "small government," you've got to step aside and let her do her job.
    • We all lose
      When issues go to court, only the lawyers win. Sad to see this action but it seems most lawyers are Democrats so it makes sense that one would turn to the other for help in getting their way while our kids continue to lose.
      • Facts on State Board Political representation
        For Larry and others. The FACTS on political representation on State Board of Ed are that "no more than six emmbers" shall be of the Governor's political party. The Board has 10 members. One at large and one from each Congressional District. Currently there are 6 known Republicans on the Board. There are I believe 2 independents and 2 Democrats. Though 1 "independent" Dan Elsener has voted only in Republican primaries and only given to GOP candidates. By statute 4 of the Board's members must be "licensed educators employed in an Indiana school". Given the political make-up of the Board there are some GOP educators represented. Which will make unhappy the posters here who demonize teachers and ISTA.
      • It is political
        Shame on Governor Pence and his Republican supporters for trying to play political games. Please don't pretend to be for small government, then immediately start setting up new government agencies so you can get your way. One thing that will become loud and clear to thick headed Republican politicians: VOTERS voices matter. I know you believe that you can get your way with money, influence and dirty maneuvers, but the last election proved you wrong. More often than not, I find that my opinions mirror those of the popular majority. Take heed. People are getting tired of this dirty political game. Or don't -- and be voted out. Ask Tony Bennett how that feels.
      • Not Quite Partisanship
        Although I enjoy a good political story as much as anyone; this is neither. It is not overtly political or much of a story. The State Board is not "Republican;" it is bi-partisan since by law nearly 50% of the members must be from the party opposite of the Governor. One could not detect that little fact from the way this article is written. Nor should this be much of a story, except for the wonderful precedent it will set for school district superintendents to start suing their school boards. Won't that lead to a lot of fun? What was especially difficult to determine was how all of this is helping improving education for the children in the state.
        • Glenda The Good Witch She Isn't
          Maybe if Glenda Ritz wasn't to busy traveling to China they would have held a formal meeting. Of course she would not allow it be put brought up and would have called them out of order so what is the point. This was bound to happen sooner or later from one side of the aisle.
          • One Party Rule
            Love it.
          • @Joe
            People who lack the ability to apply logic often resort to name calling. Your post is confirmation. What's your role with the ISTA? Haha!
          • no rage
            Why do Hoosiers continue to allow Mr. Pence and Republicans to stop our election decision to have Glenda direct Hoosier education system. Where is the media and public outrage?
          • Corruption to insure charter (GOP Donor) schools are high ranked.
            I could almost believe Pence if charter schools were awarded on merit rather than political alliance. Pence & Mitch worked to give tax money to friends. These charter school are gifts to donors. The actions are "justified" to voters by saying...."public schools are failures." Rigging the grading prevents any honest accounting. Attacking an honest school superintendent is an act of desperation. The actions of Pence are costing all Republications votes. I hope we have honest judges for the case.
          • Elected Authority
            "The lawsuit accuses the board of using staff at the new Center for Education and Career Innovation – which Republican Gov. Mike Pence created in part to staff the education board – of helping carry out what she deems illegal actions". Wow, that's an interesting characterization - that the center was created to help out with a little paperwork. The board/superintendent report to this newly created center. It's quite blatantly there to take power from the elected superintendent.
          • ISTA
            The teacher's union shows up to comment on this story in 3 - 2 -.....whoops, they already arrived.
            • It's on!
              So glad to hear she's doing this. The GOP appointees are out of control and need to be put in their place. This woman has tried to work with them, and they refuse. I voted for her. None of us voted for any of these appointees that are trying to do an end-run around the will of the people and continue the policies of Bennett. A win for her in court is a win for the Indiana voters.
            • Name-calling doesn't advance the discuss
              Instead of name-calling, I suggest you read the IBJ's reports on these issues. If you had done so, you would know that the Department of Education's delay in issuing the A-F letter grades was the result of the long-delayed ISTEP results. And that delay was not caused by Supt. Ritz or her staff. The Department of Education is, the IBJ previously reported, working on the A-F letter grades and expects to issue them soon. Superintendent Ritz's predecessor, in sharp contrast, rushed the assignment of A-F letter grades, which an independent panel concluded resulted in an inappropriate grade being issued to Christel House. The issue is not Superintendent Ritz's competence, it is the Republican-dominated board of education being poor losers. Indiana voters overwhelmingly voted against their agenda when we elected Glenda Ritz. It's way past time for the board of education to suck it up and work with Superintendent Ritz instead of illegally going around her.
            • fear
              Why are Republicans so afraid of the one Democrat in state government? The gop acts as if it is entitled to rule by divine right. It isn't.
            • Too bad she doesn't do her JOB that fast
              If Glenda had simply done her job in a timely fashion, this would never have become an issue. Rather than get the job COMPLETED, she wastes time (and taxpayer resources) filing a suit to prevent someone from doing her job that she STILL has not finished. Sigh.
              • Yoo - Hoo
                Way to go Glenda!! Hopefully this will teach those sneaky board members to abide by the rules. What were they thinking? That they didn't have to abide by the rules? Probably.

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