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Confusion shrouds Ritz agenda for meeting

Ritz

– Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has planned a Wednesday meeting of the State Board of Education – but it will be held without official notice.

Ritz said this morning that the meeting would be open.

The confusion over the meeting is the latest in the squabbling between the Republican-controlled board and Democrat Ritz.

There are three December meetings – but only one in question.

The first is a strategic planning committee meeting for the board, which was posted and will happen this morning.

The second was a normal board business meeting originally scheduled and posted for Wednesday. But Ritz – chair of the panel – announced last week a new date of the 20th, at which it will take final action on A-F grades for schools.

That led to confusion about whether the Wednesday meeting would still occur.

It is no longer posted on the Indiana Department of Education website. But staff with the Center for Education and Career Innovation said there will be a meeting of some kind that day.

The center staffs the board and is in contact with the department. Apparently a presenter from the National Association of State Boards of Education will attend the Wednesday meeting. That is the group Ritz and Gov. Mike Pence tapped to mediate issues between the parties.

Lou Ann Baker, spokeswoman for the Center for Education and Career Innovation, said the department hasn't given an agenda for the Wednesday meeting.

As of Monday the location of the meeting also was unknown – even to the board members.

Board member Brad Oliver tweeted, "I was alerted last week of possible mtg. w/NASBE. Hopeful the Chair makes it a public mtg w/notice. I welcome NASBE help."

Daniel Altman, spokesman for Ritz, said the law provides for an "orientation" session without notice, and that will occur Wednesday.

State law specifically says a "meeting" does not include "an orientation of members of the governing body on their role and responsibilities as public officials, but not for any other official action."

No action can be taken at the meeting without proper posting under Indiana's Open Door law.

A confidential informal opinion from Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said a closed-door orientation meeting "could" be permissible under state law.

"I can see how the Board may find it beneficial to re-orient themselves to clarify and adjust roles and responsibilities. An adjustment of a position in reference to circumstances would qualify as a re-orientation," Britt said in an email. "Even if you consider the orientation argument as meritorious, you may want to err on the side of caution and hold an open meeting. If possible, that is always the best course of action for any agency, not just the Board."

He went on to specifically suggest any discussion about meeting procedures be held in an open meeting.

"There are no exceptions in the (Open Door Law) for procedural discussions amongst a majority gathering. Even though procedures are likely administrative in nature, discussions of such policy changes would need to be held in public," Britt said.

nkelly@jg.net

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