Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN


August 6, 2013

The hollow facade of Supt. Tony Bennett


In 2011, the Indiana Higher Education Commission found that more than 40 percent of prep graduates were in university remediation, as well as 7 percent with academic honors degrees. For students who graduated with a general degree, it was 83 percent.

These past eight months, after one of the most rapid rises in Indiana politics and education, we’ve watched the precipitous fall of Supt. Tony Bennett, culminating with his stunning upset loss to little known Democrat Glenda Ritz last November, and as of Thursday, his resignation as Florida’s education superintendent.

Bennett’s ultimate Sunshine State downfall had its roots in Indiana, where emails obtained by the Associated Press’s Tom LoBianco revealed Bennett’s willingness to take liberties with the A through F numbers of Christel House, a charter school founded by Indiana philanthropist Christel DeHaan. It looked even worse when it was reported that DeHaan had contributed $130,000 to Bennett’s reelection campaign.

Bennett had cited Christel House as the poster child for his reforms. But last September, when it became clear the charter school would receive a “C” instead of an “A”, it set off a panic in the superintendent’s office. “Oh crap. We cannot release until this is resolved,” said Heather Neal, an aide to the superintendent on Sept. 12, 2012 and now Gov. Mike Pence’s legislative liaison. Bennett would email, saying, “They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work. We may well lose Pence on this as well . . .”

And in a Sept. 13 email to DOE brass Neal, Jon Gubera and Dale Chu, Bennett would write, “I cannot count the number of times we have been in meetings with Christel, the Chamber, (House Speaker) Brian Bosma, (Senate President) David Long and others when I have said that we count Christel House as an A school. Now here we are and they are not an A school. We have two problems. First, I either lied or twisted the truth in order to get what we want. I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of repeated lies I have made over the past six months.”

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