Education

Ed Board Members Ask Ritz To Drop Lawsuit

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October 28, 2013 — A Gary lawyer is among four members of the State Board of Education now asking Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz to drop a lawsuit she filed accusing them of taking secret, illegal action.

The members – Tony Walker, an attorney from Gary; Troy Albert, a principal from Henryville; David Freitas, a professor from South Bend and Sarah O’Brien, a first-grade teacher from Avon – said in a letter that they “don’t believe politics have any business in education.”

They asked Ritz, who chairs the state board, to “put politics aside and come to the table ready to put the interests of students, teachers and schools first.”

Ritz filed the lawsuit last week in Marion Circuit Court.  It accuses 10 members of the State Board of Education, who were appointed by Republican governors, violating the state’s Open Door Law by taking official action without meeting in public for a debate and vote.

The lawsuit followed a letter the board members signed last week that asked GOP legislative leaders to have the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency calculate A-F school grades, even before the Department of Education had finished working on the data.

Ritz said on Thursday that the DOE is working diligently on the school grades and that board should not have asked lawmakers to intervene without a public discussion and vote.

“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,” Ritz said.

But in their letter, the four board members said they have been “been continually frustrated by our emails and requests that go unanswered, missed deadlines, and a lack of progress on issues that are critical to the success of our students and our schools.”

Still, they said they were willing to “set that aside and start over.”

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that Ritz had no authority to file it.

The full text of the four Board members’ letter follows:

 

October 25, 2013

 

Dear Superintendent Ritz,

In the interest of transparent dialogue about the future of education in Indiana, we are offering this open letter requesting that you join us in starting anew to work on behalf of the students and schools that we all care about deeply.

We, the members of the State Board of Education, are teachers, school administrators, professors and professionals in higher education and business. We are bipartisan, and we don’t believe politics have any business in education. We work every day to give students new opportunities in our own classrooms, schools, institutions of higher education and communities.

We did not run for elected office, but when we were called upon to serve the students, teachers and schools in this state as members of the State Board of Education, we were humbled and honored to answer the call. We would have been happy to work to better education in Indiana in relative obscurity, as we have no higher aspiration than to ensure our state and our children have access to the best education possible.

Now we find ourselves embroiled in a lawsuit. Named individually as defendants and  accused of having a secret meeting that never took place. While you have access to in-house representation, we do not.

As you know, the State Board of Education has a statutory responsibility for developing education policy in this state. We appreciate your expression on Thursday of your respect for us as individuals. We respect your role as the chair of our board and your statutory obligation as the head of the Indiana Department of Education. However, the State Board of Education is a shared governance board, and we ask that you respect our duties as board members as well.

Superintendent, you have said repeatedly that you have worked to communicate openly with us.  And yet, we have been continually frustrated by our emails and requests that go unanswered, missed deadlines, and a lack of progress on issues that are critical to the success of our students and our schools. However, in the interest of our students—the future of our state—we are ready to set that aside and start over.

On Thursday in your press conference you stated: “I look forward to continuing to work to improve education for all Indiana students in a fair, transparent and collaborative manner.” We share that goal, but actions speak louder than words. If you truly want to work in a collaborative manner, then we ask that you drop this lawsuit, put politics aside, and come to the table ready to put the interests of students, teachers and schools first.

It is time to get to work. We welcome your assistance on education policy, and we look forward to your response.

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