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National group will help mediate education board dispute

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Republican Gov. Mike Pence and Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz met behind closed doors Tuesday and agreed to engage an outside group to help mediate disputes within the State Board of Education.

In a joint press release, the elected officials said the National Association of State Boards of Education will “facilitate a conversation” among board members about their roles and responsibilities as well as the operation of the board.

Ritz, who unseated Republican Tony Bennett last year, is the chair of the board, while its other members have all been appointed by Republican governors. Ritz and the board have clashed often over big issues such as how to assign grades to schools and small issues, including how to set the board’s agenda.

Pence said in a statement that he’s “grateful to the superintendent for her willingness to work with my administration to address the challenges and opportunities for Hoosier students, teachers and schools.”

Pence suggested bringing in the national education association just days after a State Board of Education meeting imploded over issues about whether Ritz’s office or the Center for Education and Career Innovation will oversee a study of Common Core curriculum standards. Pence created the CECI earlier this year in part to staff the Board of Education, a job that used to belong the Department of Education that Ritz oversees.

But the tension between Ritz, the board and Republican leaders has been building. Board members say that Ritz ignores their requests to put issues on meeting agendas for discussion and refuses to let them vote on proposals, despite a shared governance agreement she signed.

And Ritz accuses Pence of using the board and the new agency to try to undermine her authority. On Wednesday, she was more conciliatory.

“Since the last meeting of the State Board of Education, I have said that the governor and I needed to work together directly to address recent issues that have arisen,” Ritz said. “Yesterday’s meeting was a first step towards that goal. I believe the governor now has a clearer understanding of my concerns regarding the CECI, but much work remains to be done.”

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