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State education board meeting erupts as Ritz walks out

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A tug-of-war between Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and 10 other members of the State Board of Education erupted Wednesday during a discussion about Common Core curriculum standards, leading Ritz to try to abruptly adjourn the meeting and leave.

At issue was a resolution that would have given the new Center for Education and Career Innovation – an agency created this year by Gov. Mike Pence – the authority to oversee the board’s study of Common Core, including public hearings and research.

But the underlying question is far bigger: Who now controls education in Indiana?

Ritz, a Democrat, said she ended what had become a chaotic meeting to stop the Pence administration from taking another step to usurp her power and that of the Department of Education she oversees.

“I was elected as Indiana’s chief education officer to be an advocate for public education,” Ritz said after the meeting in Indianapolis. “I have the duty to coordinate education policy and serve as a check and balance to Gov. Pence and the State Board of Education.”

But Pence, a Republican, later described education as a “shared responsibility” between his administration and the education department. Pence said his administration will “do our part to continue to build on the progress that Indiana has made for the sake of our kids and for the sake of their future.”

“I regret the misunderstandings and the friction that has resulted from that in the State Board of Education,” he said. “We'll be working through those issues in the days ahead.”

The battle lines were drawn last November, when Ritz defeated Republican Tony Bennett who had pushed through a number of education reforms – including vouchers and new school accountability measures – backed by Pence, GOP lawmakers and former Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Ritz argues that since then, Republicans have worked to undermine her authority. The General Assembly last spring gave the board – whose other members have been appointed by GOP governors – more power over its own budget. And this summer, the board moved its money and staff to the new Center for Education and Career Innovation.

In the past, the Department of Education has always staffed the board, even when the superintendent and governor came from different parties. Now, Ritz said, the new agency is “undermining the exceptional work done every day by the Department of Education.”

“As you are all now aware, this is causing unnecessary conflict in education, which does nothing to serve Indiana’s children,” Ritz said.

But education board members say that Ritz is trying to strip their authority. They say she has repeatedly failed to put issues on the agenda they want to discuss and won’t recognize them to make motions for votes.

That’s essentially what happened Wednesday during the discussion about Common Core, a national set of education standards that the state board adopted in 2010. Controversy about the standards – particularly among conservatives and some educators – led the General Assembly to order a study to determine whether the state should stick with the program or create new standards.

That study is to include research, public hearings and other action by the state board. Member Brad Oliver offered a proposal that would have given responsibility for a number of those functions to the Center for Education and Career Innovation – working in conjunction with the education department.

Board members tried to move on without her, even as Department of Education staff packed up the equipment used to web stream the meetings live. Board members said without a formal motion to adjourn and a second, the meeting wasn’t over and tried to seek legal guidance to continue. But they eventually adjourned the meeting for a second time.

Meanwhile, the implosion led to frantic tweeting from reporters and others in the audience trying to make sense of the dispute.

“Just have to say, I’ve never seen anything like this at a public meeting in 20 years. I’ve seen a lot,” tweeted Scott Elliott, editor of education news website Chalkbeat Indiana.

Both sides of the dispute say they want to seek guidance from Attorney General Greg Zoeller about how to proceed. Zoeller went to Ritz’s office after the meeting to talk but he’s declined to talk about such discussions, citing attorney-client privilege.

Earlier this month, Zoeller’s office convinced a judge to drop a lawsuit Ritz brought against members of the board. Zoeller argued that Ritz couldn’t bring the suit without his representation or permission to use other attorneys, which she didn’t have.
 

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  • The Law is Clear
    @Betrn'u: While it is true that Tony was the "face" of reform, the law makes it clear that he wouldn't have been able to do anything without the blessing/support of the State Board. It just so happened that the Superintendent and the Board were aligned during the Tony years.
  • hmmmmm
    It sure looked like Tony B. was making plenty of policy, without a second set of advisors.
  • Yes...but not control policy
    Let's get the facts straight. Ritz is a politician (although a poor one). She ran for public office, unlike the Board members which are NOT politicians (no election) Her job is not to make policy...that is the Board's responsibility.
  • State Board Sets Policy
    There is a very common misconception that the Superintendent/Department of Education is either responsible for setting, or has the power to set education policy in Indiana. In reality, except for very limited circumstances ALL state education policy is set by the State Board and NOT the Superintendent or Department of Education. The primary duty of the Department is to implement the policies and procedures established by the State Board. In other words, the Superintendent made a number of promises during her campaign that she has very little statutory authority to keep. This isn't a "power grab" by the Board or their staff, they are simply trying to do their jobs as set forth in Indiana law. Don't take my word for it. I encourage you to review the statutes dictating the "general" responsibilities of the two entities and the Superintendent: IC 20-19-1 (Superintendent); IC 20-19-2-14 and -14.5 (State Board); and IC 20-19-3-4 and -5 (Department of Education).
  • taxpayer dollars
    Why did Governor Pence create a second agency to oversee public education? Did the taxpayers of Indiana not speak last Fall when they voted Glenda Ritz into office? We are now (with our tax dollars) paying for a second Department of Education (under the facade of Center for Education and Career Innovation) - this is only breeding chaos for the current Dept. of Education. It's obvious the current Administration is trying to override the existing Dept. of Education - it also reads as if the current Dept of Education board meetings are nothing more than rounds of bullying-people are fighting for the microphone and talking over each other. Maybe they need a seminar on board governance? Our tax dollars should only be paying for one Dept. of Education. This second department surprises me as history serves itself to keep a "skeletal" government initiated by previous Governor Daniels. It is suspicious that a second department is created by a Republican governor. This has done nothing but create chaos and wasted energy and TAX DOLLARS.
  • Mixing Politics and Education
    Perhaps the problem is exactly what those who have commented are saying but seemingly trying to avoid... It may just be that you are EITHER a politician or an educator and should not be both. This is why the leader of education policy in this state should not be elected in the first place. This is not a new idea, nor a partisan one. History would show you as Democrats we worked in the legislature & in the Governor's office, trying to make the State Supt an appointed position for years but to no avail. And, we transferred a lot of the authority of the position to other agencies and entities when Suellen Reed was Supt, so such actions are not new. As a leader - in education and/or politics - you should have the ability to adapt, determine how best to work with others, and do what you have to in order to accomplish your goals. That is assuming one has goals in the first place, and you know what they say about assuming?!
  • No Governor Office Over Other State Depts
    I am trying to step back from the politics of this situation and take a broader look at what has happened. It appears that only the Education Dept has been subject to a new oversight office within the Governor's office. Is this only because Ritz is the sole elected Democrat in his administration? It appear so to this Independent voter, particularly when other Depts, such the Economic Development group, has clearly needed more oversight given the groups past shenanigans. If the Governor is really sincere about working with Ritz, it seems to me that he would have avoided creating his new office and worked directly with Ritz to set goals and milestones and break down some of the politics. I am not saying the Ritz is not somewhat complicit in this bad situation but the Governor seems to have instigated this unfortunate situation.
  • Bad Precedent
    Regardless of what side of the isle you're on, this sets a horrible precedent for governance. Glenda Ritz was democratically elected based on her campaign to carry out certain policy and other changes her office has the legal authority to make. Any time, an opposing party can strip away that authority via funding, creation of parallel study groups or centers, etc. it sets a horrible precedent. I don't care if it was a Democratic Governor and legislature working with a Republican Superintendent of Education. They both have a job to do and need to work together to get it done. Seeking to shift the power balance when you know it will be given back if a Republican Superintendent is elected stinks!
  • Voters Elected Ritz
    Ritz was elected to put a check on the Republican monopoly and oversight of education in IN. She is an educator; they are politicians. She can't do her job, as Rs figure out a way around including her. This from a Republican who voted for her.

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