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Proposed bill will seek to make Indiana school chiefs appointed, not elected

January 5, 2017

Gov.-Elect Eric Holcomb on Thursday announced that beginning in 2021, he wants to make Indiana’s elected superintendent of public instruction a governor-appointed position.

“This is not about the person, me or the superintendent,” Holcomb said, referring to incoming superintendent, Republican Jennifer McCormick. “This is about the position and how it can be aligned (with the governor’s office) and work truly together.”

Holcomb said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, would author the bill. Despite earlier comments from Bosma that he might not push for such a proposal this year, Bosma has said he’s long supported appointing the state superintendent.

Holcomb would not say whether McCormick supported the proposal. The secretary of education would report directly to the governor as part of the cabinet.

McCormick, formerly a school superintendent in Yorktown, near Muncie, could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

 

Less than two months ago, legislative leaders in both parties were not definitive about whether they’d want the superintendent position to be elected or appointed, or when that change might take place.

Politically, the move has been a long time coming. Gov. Mike Pence, now the U.S. vice president-elect, frequently butted heads with former superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, over issues of testing, school A-F grades and who shapes the state’s education policy.

Those battles sparked conversations among lawmakers as recently as 2015 about making the position appointed, which most states already do. Ultimately, those conversations did not end with a change to the elected office. Instead, a new law said the state superintendent would be removed as the automatic leader of the Indiana State Board of Education after 2016.

Ritz served in the position through last month. Until a stunning loss in November, Ritz was the only Democrat elected to statewide office.

The new proposal, if it passes the General Assembly, would not take effect until after McCormick’s upcoming term as Indiana’s top education official. She will be sworn in Monday and serve through 2020.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said Thursday he could be convinced either way about whether electing or appointing is better, which marks a change from recent Democrat priorities to keep the state superintendent position independent from the governor’s office.

“This idea has been kicked around between the parties for a long period of time,” Pelath said. “I just have to say as an individual taxpaying Hoosier, I can see the merits both ways. I’ve had an open mind to those things.”

However, Pelath said, he’s not sure the public will be as understanding. And really, he said, what matters is whether a change will result in any improvements to education overall.

“Making an office appointed when it’s been elected is always a bit of a tough sell,” Pelath said. “It’s one thing to make a change in how the office is picked. What policies follow—those are what really matter. And if it doesn’t make a change, then it’s not really much of a reform.”

Holcomb is expected to present his full budget plan next week, and Bosma said his bill will be filed on Monday.

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Recent Articles by Shaina Cavazos, Chalkbeat Indiana

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