News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 9, 2013

Judge dismisses Ritz’s suit against Ed Board

State education officials set A-to-F school grade timeline amid clash

INDIANAPOLIS — The State Board of Education agreed Friday on a timeline for calculating and releasing school grades, shortly before a Marion County judge dismissed the lawsuit brought by state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz over control of those results.

The board also began consideration of a new school-grading formula, ahead of a Nov. 15 deadline for approval set by lawmakers earlier this year.

Indiana’s A-to-F school grades have been the center of a string of controversies, from widespread accuracy concerns when they were first issued last year, to the grade-changing scandal that cost former schools Superintendent Tony Bennett his job as Florida’s schools chief, plus the most recent school board battle that escalated into a lawsuit.

“I am disappointed in today’s ruling and concerned for all Hoosiers that have their lives affected by unelected boards, including those that meet, perhaps, in secret,” Ritz said Friday after the board meeting.

Ritz, a Democrat, chairs the board, but the other 10 members have been appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence or former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. Tensions between Ritz and the other members have been growing steadily over the past year.

New member Gordon Hendry attempted to break the tension Friday, at the start of their first meeting since Ritz filed a lawsuit against him and the other members.

“Let the record reflect I came back,” said Hendry, a Democratic board member recently appointed by Pence. “I hope this meeting will be a kinder, gentler one.”

Ritz alleged the other members had violated Indiana’s open meetings law when they went around her last month to move calculation of the school grades to an arm of the General Assembly. Board members have complained that Ritz has dragged her feet on the school grades, a measure she opposed on the campaign trail but is now tasked with enforcing as the superintendent. But Friday’s unanimous decision by the board on a timeline for issuing the grades appeared to make many of the arguments from both sides moot.

The board agreed to issue preliminary grades to schools by the end of next week and could make the grades public by the end of the year, following an appeals process. The grades, a new iteration of the state’s school evaluation system, are used in part to determine teacher pay and school funding. They also have become an increasingly important tool in assessing neighborhoods and communities.

Lawmakers had already decided earlier this year to seek an overhaul of the grading formula when emails were published showing Bennett and his staff had reworked the formula to raise a campaign donor’s charter school from a “C” to an “A.” A pair of legislative investigators found the changes were applied evenly to other schools.

Meanwhile, the grades for the 2012-2013 school year and the following school year will be run through the Bennett model. The board agreed Friday to have Ritz’s Department of Education calculate the grades at the same time the General Assembly’s Legislative Services Agency runs the formula.

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