Democrat calls for investigation of Bennett lists

Democrats on Thursday called for a state investigation into allegations that former state Superintendent Tony Bennett kept campaign databases on state Department of Education computers, which could violate state law.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said the allegations “should be taken seriously.”

“I think it should be investigated,” Lanane said.

He was reacting to a story written by The Associated Press that also said Bennett “ordered his staff to dissect a speech by his Democratic opponent for inaccuracies last fall.”

Bennett told the AP that he planned to use the lists to make thank you calls on his own time after last fall’s election and that he did not ask his staff to do campaign work. Democrat Superintendent Glenda Ritz defeated Bennett in that election.

Lanane said he’d like the state’s inspector general to look into the allegations. According to the AP, that office is already looking into previous accusations that Bennett made changes to the state’s A-F grading formula for schools to help one charter school he had been touting.

Controversy about those allegations led Bennett to resign from his job as the top educator in Florida.

“The inspector general not only has a duty to complete a thorough investigation into these matters, but he has a duty to do so quickly and transparently,” said Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody. “Hoosiers have a right to know what Tony Bennett and his staff were doing with public dollars – and whether anyone will be held accountable for clearly reckless, if not unethical or downright illegal, actions.”

Bennett has also denied wrongdoing in the A-F system. He says changes made to the formula were meant to improve the overall system and benefited dozens of schools, not just Christel House Academy in Indianapolis, which was founded by a Republican donor.

An independent report ordered by the General Assembly said last week that the changes Bennett made were “plausible,” although it also said the Department of Education had been unprepared to implement the changes to the A-F system.

On Thursday, Republicans spoke out to defend Bennett.

Cam Savage, who previously worked for the Republican, said Bennett “welcomes any opportunity to clear his good name from the biased, unfair and inaccurate attacks of a single reporter who is clearly working hand-in-hand with state Democratic officials and whose ‘reporting’ has already been publicly proven wrong.”

And Indiana Republican Party Chairman Tim Berry said the current state superintendent owes Bennett an apology. He cited a post on a conservative website in Florida that said Ritz was involved in turning records over to the AP for the story. She has not commented on the story.

“Superintendent Ritz can’t get away with not answering simple questions,” Berry said in a statement. “Hoosiers deserve to know what comes first in the Ritz Department of Education: Students, parents and teachers or settling political scores.”

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