Pelath questions pace of Bennett grade change investigation

2013-10-15T14:15:00Z 2013-10-16T00:11:07Z Pelath questions pace of Bennett grade change investigationBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
October 15, 2013 2:15 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath wants to know why it's taking so long for the state ethics watchdog to determine if Republican Tony Bennett, the former superintendent of public instruction, improperly manipulated school grades prior to the 2012 election.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Indiana Inspector General David Thomas, Pelath asks what Thomas and his staff of 14 have uncovered after more than two months of investigating. Pelath also requests they share their timeline toward a final report.

"I personally don't see any sense of urgency," said Pelath, D-Michigan City. "There were two volunteer reviewers that managed to find out an awful lot in a few weeks."

That Legislature-sponsored review of Bennett's grade changes determined last month the superintendent's actions were "plausible" due to gaps in the rating standards for schools with nontraditional grade groupings.

Bennett's changes, which were not approved by the State Board of Education, boosted the grades of 165 schools, including 22 in Northwest Indiana, and an Indianapolis charter school set to received a C that Bennett had long touted as one of the best in the state.

In July, Bennett resigned as Florida schools chief when the grade changes were uncovered. He requested the inspector general confirm he did nothing wrong.

Pelath said Hoosiers have waited long enough for the inspector general's report and deserve to know why Bennett changed the grades, not just how he did it.

"I'm starting to question whether that office is able to handle something of this magnitude," Pelath said. "Accountability is more important now than ever because we have a nationally very unpopular crew that is in charge of every aspect of state government."

Thomas told The Times that he cannot talk about pending investigations, but acknowledged he is working on the Bennett matter.

"We are being very thorough and we're going to try to conclude it as quickly as we can," Thomas said. "We want to make sure and give it its proper due — there are multiple issues and we are actively investigating them."

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