Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

September 24, 2013

TOM LoBIANCO: Transparency falls to Ritz with new 'A-F' scores

Fallout from Bennett has raised bar of expectation.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Democratic schools Super-intendent Glenda Ritz is pro-mising greater transpar-ency as she begins work on a new school grading formula.

Even before it was uncovered that her predecessor, former Republican schools Superintendent Tony Bennett, had changed the grading formula to ensure a top GOP donor’s charter school received an A, Ritz said her administration would work in the open. But in the wake of Bennett’s grade-changing scandal, that promise is even more important.

One of her first chances to make good on that guarantee will be a string of meetings for the 17-member panel making recommendations on the new grading formula. They will be working at a breakneck pace, by Statehouse standards, to get their recommendations to the State Board of Education by Nov. 1.

Ritz and the panel’s other co-chairman, West Allen County School Superintendent Steven Yager, both said last week they plan to hold “fair and transparent” meetings.

“That’s our ultimate goal, to make sure we have a transparent system that patrons and teachers, staff members, taxpayers, business folks can read and understand and make sense of,” Yager said shortly before walking into the first meeting of the group.

The grades themselves are important in determining official moves, like how much money a school gets from the state. They also have less tangible impacts, affecting things like where families decide to buy homes. There already exists surface-level openness for the grades, in the form of glossy one-pagers from the Department of Education showing each school’s grade.

But the past month or so has shown that “how the sausage is made” — shorthand for the gnashing of politics in creating policy, almost as much to divert attention from important decisions — is important.

Indiana leaders have a mixed record on showing the public how their money is being spent. The good includes streaming online legislative hearings and archived webcasts, easily searchable legislation and contracts and many other databases of public information.

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