State AG moves to block Ritz's lawsuit against ed board

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Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz filed this week against 10 members of the State Board of Education

Zoeller said the superintendent had no authority to file the suit, although Ritz said her office will oppose its dismissal.

“As the lawyer for state government and the state’s chief legal officer, the attorney general has sole legal authority to represent state officials and agencies in court or to permit outside counsel to do so,” Bryan Corbin, Zoeller’s spokesman, said on Thursday.

“In-house agency lawyers cannot appear in court on behalf of the state,” he said. The attorney general’s motion asks a judge to strike the appearance of the Department of Education attorneys and the lawsuit they filed.

At issue are grades the Board of Education – which Ritz chairs – must assign schools annually. Members of the board say they’re worried the DOE is not moving quickly enough to get the grades ready, but Ritz said the agency is ahead of last year’s timeline given how late vital standardized testing scores were finalized.

The board members signed a letter last week to GOP legislative leaders, asking them to give the A-F school grading process to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

Then, on Tuesday, Ritz filed the suit in Marion Circuit Court. It accuses 10 members of the State Board of Education – who were all appointed by Republican governors – of violating the state’s Open Door Law by meeting secretly and taking action in an effort to undermine her authority.

“Let me be clear, the letter that the members of the Board sent to Republican legislative leadership asking that LSA take over A-F grading was done without public notice, approval or even public opportunity to comment,” Ritz said Thursday.

“I have always believed that fair, open and transparent decision-making is best and it is disappointing to learn that the board took action in a different manner,” she said.

However, Ritz said she would be open to discussions about mediation or settling the dispute.

Corbin said Thursday that the attorney general’s office has not taken sides in the lawsuit, even though he’s seeking to have it dismissed.

“For purposes of this motion filed today, the attorney general does not represent the 10 individual board members, but rather state government itself and he is asserting that legal authority,” Corbin said.

He said a hearing on the suit has not been set.

The suit is the latest development in a battle between Ritz, the education 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.

That’s been complicated by accusations that Bennett ordered changes to last year’s A-F formula in an attempt to help an Indianapolis charter school he’d been touting. That move also changed grades for hundreds of other schools.

An independent investigation ordered by the General Assembly found that the changes Bennett made were “plausible,” although it also said the Department of Education had been unprepared to implement changes to the A-F system. And it said the grades had been rushed. The authors urged state officials to slow down as they prepared future grades.

But earlier on Thursday, Gov. Mike Pence – who recently created a new agency in part to staff the Board of Education that Ritz chairs – said he supports the members’ move to try to get the A-F grades finished more quickly.

“Our schools are anxiously awaiting the results of these A-F grades,” Pence said. “Our parents deserve to know how their schools are performing and teacher pay raises in many jurisdictions around Indiana are dependent on the performance of their schools.”

But DOE officials have said they are on track to have the grades completed in the coming weeks – but only after parents have had time to appeal student grades, which is required by state law.

On Thursday, Ritz said that 55,000 parents have appealed their children’s test results, a 20-percent increase over last year. The rescoring is done by hand and should be completed by Nov. 5.

“Because Indiana has such a high-stakes testing system, one changed score can affect not just a student or school, but multiple schools,” Ritz said. “My administration has consistently provided this needed data to schools and will continue to do so openly and as fast as possible.”


  • Let Elected Official Do Her Job!
    I continue to be disappointed that the Republican operatives will not let an elected official do her job. Note: I am not a teacher or Democrat; just a concerned grandfather who wants to education improve in this woeful state.
  • Zoeller's agenda
    Herr Zoeller has proven himself yet again to be a goosestepping order-obeying GOP footsoldier more than anxious to push their narrow agenda (and further his visibility and career plans at the same time). Be it the Affordable Care Act, California same-sex marriage cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, or this state GOP attempt to undermine the voter's will, Zoeller constantly diverts the taxpayer funded time of his office and his underlings to tilt at windmills that are none of his or Indiana's business.
  • Lawsuit Will Be Dismissed
    If the ISTA isn't too busy posting comments on this thread, then I'm certain they can find the time to file their own lawsuit against the BOE. Otherwise, Zoeller is correct. A state office holder can not represent themselves and their position (right or wrong) in court independent of the AG office. "It's state law, I swear to God it is!"
    • WHOSE AG?
      Zoeller's argument seems weak when one considers that Ritz was independently elected -- with more votes than Pence. As one of the many Hoosiers who voted for her, I sure as hell don't want her to have to rely on Zoeller for representation. He doesn't represent the citizens of Indiana. He represents our right wing Governor and the ALEC agenda. Let's not forget that he's the guy who is suing to deny Hoosiers access to subsidized health insurance premiums.
    • Support Action
      Supt Ritz is absolutly right & proper to file the suit. Open door policy violations occur all to frequently, yet most go unchallenged in our polical system. This is an obvious violation. Should the board members signing the letter had mad any attempt to be "open" they would have addressed the letter to appropriate legislators on both parties. The people of Indiana elected Supt. Ritz because she is a Teacher who is strictly interested in ensuring a proper education is provided for all students. Not enriching the few choice of a political party and limiting educational opportunites for all.
    • Republicans should try using the ballot box
      Why can the republicans not see what happens when they try to sidestep the Democratic Process? Look what just happened to the Repulicans in Congress ! The next election is not that far away and the heavy handed bully tactics of this Governor and his State-house-Mafia will not be forgotten. Get your bags packed Governor Pence!
    • Hand off
      I'm sure the Indiana State Teachers Association would be glad to join/file a similar lawsuit. As would the same people who voted Ritz into office. Bottom line, public bodies can't make decisions behind closed doors. The board had a quorum when it tried to assume power for the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Let her do the job she was elected to do ... or get defeated in the next election. We're all sick of the power grabs.
    • GOP Cabal
      Zoeller (R) looks the other way to any illegal activity that his Party comrades may engage in. The State government is a pure single-party regime that doesn't care about the rule of law anymore.
    • Seriously, A.G. Zellers?
      It's a shame that the State education Tzar can't trust her own board members. She has every right to file suit to protect her office from being over run by cronies of the Governor. In reality, she has no other choice but to file with her own lawyers, because the A.G. would be a hostile opponent to her suit, because of his relationship with the Governor. So, what's next? Federal Court? I'm pretty sure that Mrs Ritz can raise all the support she needs to fight this privately, if Gov. Mike keeps the dogs on. I'm in, Glenda!
    • Amusing
      Funny how important this office was when an R was there, and how marginal the "reformers" now see this position. By virtue of the vote count and margin of victory, Ritz is the most legitimate office holder in the state government. Unfortunately for her, she can't see clear to support the corporatizsation of our schools.

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