RICH JAMES: Bennett's cheating is cardinal sin for educators

2013-08-14T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Bennett's cheating is cardinal sin for educatorsBy Rich James nwitimes.com
August 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I guess Tony Bennett is asking us to feel sorry for him.

I guess the former superintendent of public instruction thinks he is getting a raw deal.

I guess he thinks all the “wonderful” work he did reforming Indiana’s public school system will go for naught because of the attacks on his character.

Bennett lost his re-election bid last year because he ran roughshod over the heart of the Indiana public school system — the teachers.

And then Florida hired him to do the same job at a salary of more than $200,000.

Bennett became the sweetheart of the charter school system in Indiana. He embraced it, expanded it and finally cheated to help preserve it.

Yeah, Tony did about the worst thing you can do as an educator. He cheated.

When the formula for grading the performance of charter schools gave the Christel House Academy a C, Bennett balked.

There’s no way a charter school run by Christel DeHaan — a major donor to the Indiana Republican Party — could receive a C. So, Tony essentially let the money dictate his decision to order his staff to change the C to an A.

And he did the same for a dozen other institutions in his charter schools family.

This is the same Tony who told me he might not run for re-election in 2012 because of the criticism that already had been directed at his wife.

Tony’s wife, Tina, was involved in a charter school oversight program at Marian University.

Marian was awarded a state contract for its Turnaround Leadership Academy to train transformational teachers. Some thought it was too cozy.

When Tony got caught romancing the Christel House Academy, he resigned from his job in Florida. And just like every inmate in a prison, he said he was innocent.

And then came the tears. The day before he quit in Florida, Tony emailed former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and said he had done nothing wrong.

So abused was Tony that he said his life had been a “living hell” since the story broke about his abuse of the grading system he designed.

As he resigned from the Florida job, Tony called the attacks “malicious and unfounded.”

And in his email to Daniels, Tony said, “I cannot allow your (Daniels’) work, which I consider to be the cornerstone of education reform, to be cheapened by this character assassination that will spill over into your work.”

While we shed a tear or two about how some of us have turned Tony’s life into a “living hell,” there is something more to be considered.

If Tony had done this in Lake County, where Republicans love to criticize Democrats, he might well find himself en route to indictment.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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