Politics

Tony Bennett Targeted by His Successor in Indiana, Glenda Ritz

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: September 10, 2013 3:55 AM

Glenda Ritz

Glenda Ritz

It was Tony Bennett's successor in Indiana, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, formerly head of the teachers union in Washington Township schools, who turned over Bennett's entire Outlook file -- six months of emails, four years of calendar items, everything -- to Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco, according to two of Ritz's employees.

Ritz beat Bennett in the 2012 Indiana general election, becoming the first Democrat to win the job in 42 years. He had been a favorite of former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Two employees in Ritz's office spoke late Monday to Sunshine State News on condition of anonymity. "Glenda is Tony's sworn enemy," said one of the employees. "She approached Tom (LoBianco) and cooperated with the press right down the line."

"I think the idea was to destroy what Tony stands for by tainting him with a little dirt," the second employee added, saying what offended Ritz was his hard-driving agenda of charters, vouchers and high-stakes testing.

The employees confirmed that LoBianco had been working on a story connecting political figures, including Bennett, and had submitted a Freedom of Information request for the former superintendent's email. 

In 2012, Bennett changed the grade for a donor's charter school. Critics said his emails showed that he and his staff "frantically overhauled" Indiana's grading system to give the school, Christel House, an "A" instead of a "C"; Bennett insisted Christel House, like four other schools, had been misgraded because vital information hadn't been taken into account; the grades of all five schools were necessarily adjusted. The AP story caused a firestorm and on Aug. 1 Bennett resigned his position in Florida, saying the story would present too much of a distraction for Sunshine State leaders if he stayed.

An Indiana Legislature-commissioned report on Friday said Bennett's explanations are plausible, that he and his staff were overburdened by the complexities of creating an "A-F" school grading system and rushed the answers out before they were ready.

In their 58-page report, John Grew and Bill Sheldrake, whom LoBianco calls "two veterans of Democratic and Republican administrations," concluded that the report does not 'vindicate' Bennett, but neither does it condemn him. They said it finds that "the two adjustments administered to determine Christel House Academy's final grade were plausible and the treatment afforded to the school was consistently applied to other schools with similar circumstances."

LoBianco would neither confirm nor deny the Ritz employees' story, saying AP has a policy against their reporters granting interviews on their work.

Ritz's involvement in the story doesn't surprise Cam Savage, who worked for Bennett at the Department of Education, is a principal at Limestone Strategies in Terre Haute, Ind., and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns. He writes this:

"How did the AP acquire these emails in the first place? The AP stories indicate the emails came through public records requests. But how did the reporter know which records to request? Is this distinguished journalism or just the by-product of old-school political leaking?"

When asked if the Bennett grade-changing scandal had been gifted to LoBianco by Glenda Ritz, Paul Colford, director of AP media relations, provided a written statement: "It was strong AP reporting that led to our stories on Mr. Bennett and any suggestion otherwise would be incorrect."

According to his bio, LoBianco, 32, is a 2004 graduate of the University of Maryland, where he majored in journalism. He has a master's degree in political science from Northeastern University in Boston. There he served as a research assistant to former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Before joining AP, he spent two years covering politics in Maryland and Washington for the conservative newspaper The Washington Times, reporting on military issues and the confirmation hearings of future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Ritz was among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit zealously challenging the private-school voucher law, which began in Indiana in 2011. She argued that it is both improper and unconstitutional for state tax dollars to flow to private schools, and she said in a media interview during the election campaign that the last straw propelling her into the superintendent's race was the establishment of a high-stakes reading test, with students repeating a grade level if their reading skills are substandard.

Ritz was not available for comment late Monday. David Galvin, her director of communications, said Tuesday morning, "We have no comment." 




Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. 


Comments (32)

Missy
8:54PM SEP 11TH 2013
Please! You can stop kissing his butt now. He's gone and nobody wants him back unless they're as corrupt as he is!
RubyL
8:43PM SEP 11TH 2013
Tony Bennett was entirely corrupt. While he whined repeatedly, sanctimoniously about caring about Indiana's children, he acted to destroy public education and worker's unions, and to promote corporate schools and religious indoctrination. He was not acting out of concern for the welfare of Indiana students, but rather he strove to promote illogical, unsustainable, and easily discredited extremist right wing philosophies. Everything that has happened to him since is merely the natural consequences of his own behavior.
Philip D. Arnold
8:24PM SEP 11TH 2013
There are a couple of points here that we must be clear on. First, it is my opinion that the "anonymous" staffers should come forward through their immediate resignations from the Indiana Department of Education. I would imagine these are "hold-over" staff from Tony Bennett who are seeking their own form of revenge for Tony's defeat. If they are not, then Glenda needs to look closely at the staff she has around her, because someone is making accusations that are of no true merit. Secondly, even if Glenda Ritz did release ther emails to the AP, it appears as though it was done in response to a legal request for information because the emails were sent using tax payer funded computers and were a matter of public record. Tony Bennett likes to appear to be an intellectual (although many who have heard him speak believe otherwise) yet he did not have the knowledge to use his own personal computer to solicit and promote his political agenda. Lastly, there are violations of law throughout these documents that must be thuroughly investigated. These violations are punishable by jail time. It is time for Tony and his cronies to put on the jump suits and have a few meals behind bars.
Clay Turnbull
12:18AM SEP 13TH 2013
You idiots are all missing the point. Glenda Ritz only had to release specific emails. She released everything of Bennett's she could get her hands on. This was an act of spite. A character flaw. My children are in her school system and her act of cold-hearted revenge leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Bennett was gone. We flushed him out. She has belittled herself and the office she holds.
Philip D. Arnold
8:16PM SEP 11TH 2013
There are a couple of points here that we must be clear on. First, it is my opinion that the "anonymous" staffers should come forward through their immediate resignations from the Indiana Department of Education. I would imagine these are "hold-over" staff from Tony Bennett who are seeking their own form of revenge for Tony's defeat. If they are not, then Glenda needs to look closely at the staff she has around her, because someone is making
Laura Fred-Smith
7:27PM SEP 11TH 2013
The freedom of information act allows for the general public to solict and read any e-mails sent by public employees on work computers and during work hours. SO, Glenda and staff were just following the law. Secondly, many Republican representatives know about this law and have used it to their advantage and against public teachers. The proof is the new law that prohibits the transfer of political materials from public school computers on or off of school time.
Julie
2:50PM SEP 11TH 2013
And in the report, DOE staff blames the removal of the cap for bonus points on a "computer error" but not everyone is buying that. The report seems to have ignored some evidence that makes this explanation unlikely: I can't post the link but google: detail-still-missing-from-indiana-grade-change-story
Karyn
12:44PM SEP 11TH 2013
Unless Ritz is being accused of writing all of the emails herself and lying about who really write them, I honestly don't care if they were leaked by Ritz, by the president of the NEA, or some ex-girlfriend of Bennett from 30 years ago. The emails exist either way. You're forgetting to mention the part of the emails where Bennett and his staff discussed the possibility of changing the colors of the charts in the final presentation to make it look like a high-B earned by Christel House was actually an A. Now that's what I call promoting rigor and accountability!!!
Clay Turnbull
10:49PM SEP 10TH 2013
Well, nobody can ever accuse Glenda of winning graciously! I wish I could take my vote back.
Tom M
1:54PM SEP 11TH 2013
You voted for her to do what's right for PUBLIC education. One of the tasks included is to root out any corruption that may be cheating public schools of the resources they need.

Bennett's emails are evidence of that! He inflated grades of a charter school that he admits was a pet project. Those grades are used to decide who gets funding. Giving more to a charter school and less to public school by changing the rules just before grades were to be released is cheating - and it hurt public schools.

Ritz is working to undo that damage - and that's part of her job!! It's what she was elected to do! Lord knows the General Assembly and the Governor are doing plenty to prevent that, but then maybe that's because Long, Bosma, and Pence have taken big donations from the very same groups and individuals as Bennett. Are they acting in the interest of PUBLIC schools as the Indiana Constitution demands, or are they acting in the interest of those who stand to benefit from big school take-over contracts.

This is NOT the fault of the messenger. If anything, Ritz is doing a great job of rooting out the corruption. I'm proud that I voted for that!
Terry Coons
7:55AM SEP 12TH 2013
Thank you Tom M for saying exactly what I was going to say!!! Go Glenda. Our kids deserve way better than they have gotten in the last few years.
Missy
8:55PM SEP 11TH 2013
Amen, Tom!
Brad N.
8:34PM SEP 10TH 2013
Actually Mike P, we here in Indiana have a different view of Tony Bennett than you seem to have. We in Indiana voted Tony Bennett out of office because there was a growing disgust with how he was running education here. Remember, Glinda Ritz received more votes than any other state officeholder in the 2012 elections -- including more votes than now-Governor Mike Pence received. Bennett's defeat was a bi-partisan voting effort.

As Cathy said, Bennett has not been vindicated by the latest report, nor was he condemned. Bennett certainly is not vindicated by this story with these "staffers" of Ritz saying what they have (on fairly weak evidence thus far). I'd have to wonder if these staffers are with Ritz's office directly or with the Board of Education which is a group a little more hostile to Ritz. These staffers have produced nothing more than hearsay at this point.

And even what they have said is true regarding Ritz giving the information (which rightly needs to be reviewed for improprieties), Bennett's actions cannot be excused without further investigation. Christel House was a major campaign donor for him; even if there was no quid pro quo between Bennett and Christel (or Mitch Daniels and Christel, or any of the other major Republican names in Indiana who voted for "education reform" tilted toward education companies focused on profit), there is still a valid question of impropriety. Bennett's wife getting a position with a company who got charter contracts in Indiana looks suspicious, too.

And finally, Tony Bennett is a proud (many who have worked with and know him would say pompous) person who believes what he does is right all the time; yet, he resigned VERY quickly after the emails were released. If he did no wrong, why did he give-up so quickly without much of a fight?
Laurie McGowan
8:07PM SEP 10TH 2013
Here in Indiana the voters rejected Bennett and his policies. Unfortunately, this has precipitated a coup by the governor and his corporate cronies. Don't like the democratically elected Superintendent? Ignore her and start a bogus new agency, dedicated to sucking the funds out of public education.
Sal L. Somerset
9:38PM SEP 10TH 2013
What about the funds (millions of dollars) sucked out of the teachers retirement by the union?? Are you seriously looking the other way on that?? Have you even questioned that?? Or Glenda Ritz's role as president of the ISTA!! HHHMMMmmmmm...
S Wynn
9:22PM SEP 11TH 2013
First of all the teachers union (ISTA) has never taken a dime from teacher retirement, EVER. Teacher retirement is controlled and managed by the Indiana Public Retirement System not ISTA, and Glenda Ritz was NEVER president of ISTA! Get your facts straight.
Vicki
6:44PM SEP 11TH 2013
Glenda was not president of ISTA. You are mistaken.
Sandra
5:33PM SEP 10TH 2013
Why did Indiana Department of Education staffers find it necessary to reach out to this Florida newspaper?????
wbp
4:42PM SEP 10TH 2013
scott has thrown plenty of people under the bus, justified or not. it has been his pattern from the beginning. hire good people, that aren't sleazy lobbyists only in it for the money they can divert, you won't have that problem.
Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer
1:36PM SEP 10TH 2013
Actually, here in Indiana it might behoove you to know that there are many people who recognize that NOWHERE in the report does it say that Bennett is vindicated, nor does it condemn. Instead, the authors merely pointed out HOW the grade changed and they do not attempt to identify the WHY. This leaves us to decide for ourselves. Those of you who are in the camp of labeling schools and the children therein with an A-F system that only takes into account children's performance on a pass/fail test...nothing that measures their growth... can interpret this as validation for your cause. Those of us, including myself, who are parents and who voted for Glenda Ritz expecting her to lead us in education policy and decision-making, see that, even for Bennett, the grading system wasn't working the way he intended. As a mother of four children, and not an educator, I have seen the damage done by Bennett with his myopic view of success= test scores...not a variety of measurements of success, but a simple test score (or graduation rate, APcourse taken). My kid can take a test and do well. Do you know if he is creative? Is he being inspired to think outside the box? As an entrepreneur, he may be required to do that. My kid has healthy meals and a literacy-rich environment to grow up in-- does that mean that his classmate who has moved from Grandma's house to the motel to his stepmom's in the last few months, struggled to get enough to eat, should be expected to score the same way? Or should we not label our children, but rather, help them all have their needs met and see how much growth they accomplish over the course of a year. Labeling a school with a "D" is labeling the children within it a "D" regardless of how they are learning and growing. It's not something that we parents want for our kids. We want to see them engaged, we want our schools to have certified librarians and the arts taught by certified teachers. We want our kids to have time to explore and play, not fill in the bubbles. We voted for Glenda Ritz because we want EDUCATORS not POLITICIANS (and the corporations who line their pockets) to determine the direction of education. There was a time when we all wanted to see our public schools succeed in this country.. Recognizing that we need all boats to rise. Now the mantra is "save yourselves and your own" (let the money follow that child into the elite private school that chooses who gets to come in. Accountability? Ha. Some "choice."
Sal L. Somerset
9:31PM SEP 10TH 2013
So what makes a politician a politician??? I'm pretty sure Glenda Ritz is "a politician"! She's in an elected position right?? And considering that Tony Bennett has been an educator his entire adult life prior to the one elected term (that Glenda now holds) I believe would qualify him as an "educator" as well. He certainly hasn't spent his life in politics. Seriously...some of the comments are so stupid. Don't drink the union kool-aid, it's making you say dumb things.
Ted
11:58AM SEP 11TH 2013
Uh, yea, educating gym classes and home rooms like no other, for years. Go Tony!!
Sal L. Somerset
9:43PM SEP 12TH 2013
You're right, he could have been a Librarian I guess!!
Ted
11:57AM SEP 11TH 2013
Uh, yea, educating gym classes and home rooms like no other, for years. Go Tony!!
Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer
11:33AM SEP 11TH 2013
Well, I concede, that, yes, she is a politician. But she is also an educator. She is an award-winning teacher and has had years of experience in the classroom and working on literacy. Her education and experience makes her invaluable when it comes to policy. Tony Bennett did teach for maybe ten years (?) before becoming an administrator. He was never with young children (and part of my gripe with his reforms is the devastating effects of developmentally inappropriate measures-- like one test to determine the future of an 8 year old and whether or not he goes on to 4th grade--) and I believe around here in Indiana he is known from that time more for his coaching basketball than his teaching. Regardless of the contrast between Ritz and Bennett's educator status, when I referred to "politicians" in my original comment, I was referring to the governor and the state legislature who have really done the enacting of Bennett's idea of "reform." And they, for the most part, have NO teaching experience. Nor do they listen to parents and teachers when voting on the education bills. That was more of my concern. And calling my comments "stupid" and "dumb" and accusing me of drinking union Kool-aid (where? do tell! Where do I get this Kool-aid? In my house? At the kids' schools? Do you really think I am getting union sound-bites from teachers while we discuss the homework or science projects?) reflects on your own paranoia or something.. but not really my own intelligence. Stooping to insults is not an effective way of debating.
Sal L. Somerset
9:40PM SEP 12TH 2013
I wasn't debating, simply stating that alot of the comments are dumb!! Yes Tony Bennett was a successful coach for several years but he was also a principle, teacher, asst. superintendent and superintendent prior to his elected position. A "Librarian" hardly makes her experienced on policy or more qualified for the position. ??? I have yet to hear her say anything of value regarding policies and it seems she is consummed with Tony Bennett. I could only imagine that even teachers are getting tired of the drummed up drama and would like to hear something substantial coming out of that office. I will say one thing, I have yet to see or hear any of the nasty, negative publicity stunts that we are seeing from the Ritz's administration. I've heard of poor losers but poor winners!!!??? Move on Ritz!!
Really?
8:17PM SEP 10TH 2013
Can you even teach creativity?

Anyway, the A-F system was implemented not too soon before Bennett changed the grades. Sometimes changes have to be made in order to make sure a system is running efficiently for schools that have different circumstances (just like the ones you mentioned for different kids) than others.

It's shameful that Ritz is so slimy that she would go out of her way to throw Bennett under the bus...some "leader" you have there. Good luck with that!
Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer
11:21AM SEP 11TH 2013
I believe you can encourage creativity. Good teachers create an environment the encourages and rewards creativity. And you know what doesn't? Basing all learning outcomes on a set answer. The U.S. has a long-standing tradition of creativity and innovation in our education system. But recent reforms have been geared toward finding the correct answer. Period. This will not allow for the thinking-outside-of-the-box that we need in order to be creative. I don't know where you get "slimy" from? Glenda Ritz has been clear and open about where she stands on the issues and where she'd like to go. Slimy, in the dictionary, is defined as " morally reprehensible". What, pray tell, did Glenda Ritz do to offend your morals? I can tell you what Tony Bennett did to offend mine. He changed the grading system to accommodate a charter school that he wanted to see succeed. He would never have done the same for a public school (yes, some may have benefited from that change, but the intent, one can presume--or not--, was to benefit Christel House. The evidence is in his emails) . And slimy, for me, is receiving enormous campaign contributions and returning the favor. This is for "the kids"? Whatever!
Mike P
10:24AM SEP 10TH 2013
Here in Indiana, the bipartisan panel's report is certainly seen as a vindication of Tony Bennett's reform efforts. Particularly the charge that he "tipped the scale" to favor a political donor's charter school was beyond the pale. As an Indiana University education professor stated it, Bennett calibrated a formula that was still new. Most of the schools that received improved grades were wrongly penalized for low graduation rates, because they didn't go through grade 12, hence "no graduates". Ritz is as slimy a politician as they come. She and the teacher unions who backed her opposed every single reform idea put forth. Their goal was to maintain the status quo: high salaries and generous benefits, collapsing school performance, and failing students. If she had an ounce of integrity, she would forthrightly, publicly and sincerely apologize to Bennett for her smear campaign. And the media, too, should own up to their failure. They jumped on the bandwagon to open the door to Bennett's unnecessary resignation by not questioning the allegation, which here in Indiana was uncovered fairly quickly.
Hoosier
8:55PM SEP 11TH 2013
Where are these "high salaries" for teachers? I hardly call 35k a year "high." LOL. Nice try Mike.

As far as opposing all of the reform, well when someone puts forward developmentally appropriate ideas, we will consider them. What we were given by the Bennett regime was a load of crap.

What media failure? Publishing emails that show conspiracy and politically favoring a school who donated to your campaign? LOL again.
Julie
2:00PM SEP 11TH 2013
You are incorrect, Mike P. The report clearly states that only a few schools (maybe 4, including Christel House), were affected by the change to schools without a full high school. And one of these schools, Hammond Academy, saw their grade decline because of this change. The vast majority of schools, 160+, saw their grades improve because the cap on earning bonus points was lifted. Dropping high school for Christel House only raised its grade to a B. The panel's report also makes no mention of Bennett's denial the year before to treat two IPS 7-12 schools with recently added 7th and 8th as separate schools. He denied that because he needed for those public schools to fail.

As far as Ritz being "slimy", maybe you are just upset that she has learned to play the game as the boys in Indiana do.
Jeffery C.
7:06AM SEP 10TH 2013
So what you are saying is that Gov. Scott and his Chief of Staff Adam Hollingsworth forced Bennett out before they had all the evidence much the same way they did with Jennifer Carroll. This seems to be a pattern in this administration and one would come to the conclusion it is a character flaw. The "all about me" syndrome.

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