EDITORIAL: Bring transparency to State Board of Education

2013-11-12T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Bring transparency to State Board of Education nwitimes.com
November 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

It would be wrong to focus only on the political angle in the Marion County judge's ruling Friday that ended Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz's lawsuit against the State Board of Education. There's a broader, yet ignored, issue involved here.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller succeeded in having this lawsuit thrown out on a technicality. Zoeller's office is supposed to represent state agencies. Outside counsel, which Ritz used, is allowed only when the attorney general signs off on it.

The relationship between Ritz, the state's only Democrat to hold state office in Indiana, and the board appointed by Republican governors has been rocky.

Ritz accused the board of circumventing the state's Open Door Law when members signed a letter, on board letterhead, after circulating the draft letter by email. That letter asked the Indiana General Assembly leaders -- both Republicans -- to direct the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency to calculate school accountability grades. The Department of Education has done this in the past.

Zoeller said Ritz should have gone to the state's public access counselor before filing suit against the board. This is true.

So now Public Access Counselor Luke Britt should advise the board -- and the public -- that circulating the letter for board members' approval and signature was a serial vote, which is not permitted under Indiana law.

Votes are to be done in public, not in private. And this email chain conducted business in private.

The board's decision -- made without the consent of Ritz, its chairman -- has been reversed.

But the Indiana public access counselor should make clear, for the benefit of not only this board but others throughout the state, that when board members agree to sign their names on letterhead, they're doing so in an official capacity.

A serial vote like this is contrary to the Indiana Open Door Law. Don't let this happen again.

Also, the board decided Friday to "do it the way we've always done it" and agreed to have the Department of Education send school grades to local school officials Nov. 15 but not release them until December, after the schools had their opportunity to appeal their grades.

Why the cover-up? Why not release the results to the public at the same time as the schools? There's no need to keep that information away from the public.

The board should commit itself to transparency and make that information public when it's released to the schools.

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