As the Indiana State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz continue to battle, rather than settle their differences, one point about a previous board tactic must not escape notice.
The latest developments in that ongoing tiff include a failed mediation attempt and Ritz's accusation that the new Center for Education and Career Innovation was set up by Gov. Mike Pence — who also appoints State Board of Education members — to try to to shift powers from her office to the new agency.
Wednesday's mediation session didn't go well. Board member Tony Walker, of Gary, even said at the meeting it was a "waste of time."
Ritz quickly came under fire for her actions at prior meetings. Attorneys for both sides advised board members Wednesday that criticizing Ritz for her actions at prior meetings is not permitted at an orientation session under Indiana's open meetings law.
Not until the state's public access counselor, Luke Britt, entered the room and advised the board its behavior bordered on illegal did the board stop throwing barbs.
It is not the first time Britt has admonished the board to change its ways.
Ritz filed suit against the board after members gave consent by email to sending a letter on board stationery to legislative leaders in an attempt to wrest control of test scoring from Ritz's Department of Education. The lawsuit was thrown out on a technicality.
Britt issued an advisory opinion that said what the board had done was legal, but that it was wrong to discuss policy issues among themselves by email.
"Regardless of intent, the appears of action taken from public view is particularly damaging to the integrity of a public agency and open access," Britt said. "I encourage all public agencies to be especially attentive to the purpose of public access laws to avoid ambiguous situations and arousing suspicions of prohibited activities."
While we disagree with Britt about the legality of the board's action, we do appreciate the advice given to the board that notes the distinction between what's legal and what's right.
What the State Board of Education members did was wrong, and they should acknowledge that as part of the process of mending fences with Ritz and moving on with improving education — using the Department of Education as an ally and not a foe — in Indiana.