Judge dismisses Ritz lawsuit against Indiana Board of Education


A court has thrown out a lawsuit brought by Indiana Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz against the state's Board of Education.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller argued that outside attorneys could not represent the state of Indiana in the lawsuit and the court agreed. Judge Louis Rosenberg in Marion County Circuit Court today granted the motion to strike.

The news came as the Board of Education was wrapping up a meeting Friday afternoon.

Asked about the ruling, Ritz pulled out a prepared statement, saying she had just heard about it, had not seen it so she couldn't "comment on it specifically."

However, she went on to say "this case was filed because the board took illegal action outside the public arena that needed to be stopped. I am disappointed in today's ruling and concerned for all Hoosiers that have lives affected by elected boards that take action in secret."

Rosenberg's ruling did not address whether the board violated the state's open door law. Ritz said she was not sure what her next move would be.

"I want the issue to be resolved," she said, "so I'll be talking to legal counsel.

Board member Gordon Hendry said he was "very pleased with the court action. It was the right decision and I hope it puts this issue behind us so we can focus on important issues facing Hoosier children and schools. Hopefully, this will hit the reset button and the board and superintendent can work together."

The board has a lot on its plate.

On Friday's agenda was the contentious issue of when school grades will be released after technical glitches marred this year's test results.

Indiana schools will receive early versions of their 2012-2013 school grades by the end of next week.

The State Board of Education signed off on a school grade timeline that would deliver preliminary grades to schools by Nov. 15, giving them two weeks to appeal their scores. The grades are being calculated under the model created by former Schools
Superintendent Tony Bennett while a new formula is in the works.

The grades will be run through the formula twice this year - once by the Department of Education and again by the General Assembly's bill-drafting agency.

The school grades are at the center of an ongoing power struggle between schools chief Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, and other members of the board.

Earlier Friday, parents told the Indiana state Board of Education that they wanted to keep politics out of education.

They made their remarks during the public commenting part of a Board of Education meeting Friday morning. Ritz asked speakers to keep their comments to three minutes maximum due to a packed agenda.

It was the first meeting for the board since a battle for control erupted in public. Democrat Ritz chairs the board, with other members all appointees of Republican Gov. Mike Pence and former Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The other board members say Ritz has been dragging her feet calculating the "A-F" grades and asked the Legislative Services Agency to take over calculations last month. But Ritz claims in her lawsuit the board violated Indiana's open meeting laws when they went around her with the request.

The fighting comes as the board is tasked with approving a new school-grading formula.

Board member Gordon Hendry said at the beginning of the meeting that he hoped for a "kinder, gentler" meeting. He also said he hoped that the board could "keep focused on why we're here."

About the lawsuit:

Attorney General Zoeller issued this statement:

 "The reason you don't see one arm of state government's executive branch sue another is because the statute and case law make it the Attorney General's responsibility to represent state agencies in court and harmonize their conflicting legal positions, and the judicial branch was not meant to oversee internal conflicts within the executive branch.  My office was not adverse to any of our clients but sought only to ensure proper legal procedures were followed," Zoeller said. 

At issue was the motion filed by the Attorney General's Office to strike the appearances and filings of the DOE in-house attorneys for the plaintiff.  The court granted the motion, meaning the Attorney General and his deputies are the only State attorneys of record in the matter and the case will not proceed as filed and will be dismissed. The Attorney General also moved to strike the appearance and filing of a private attorney for one of the Board of Education defendants. 

"Now that this question is behind us, we encourage everyone to work to resolve their disputes in a way that respects one another and the State we all serve," Zoeller added.