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Ritz says email proposal threatens her position

Ritz
Pence

– Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz leveled accusations Wednesday that the Center for Education and Career Innovation created by Gov. Mike Pence is coming for her job.

She specifically said her office had documentation showing the center has proposed changing the law so Pence, not the superintendent, could appoint the chair of the State Board of Education.

Her staff released an Oct. 3 email to Claire Fiddian-Green, co-director of the center, from a staff attorney outlining the problem of the board chair and potential solutions.

If the legislature didn’t change the law, the alternative was to seek changes to the board’s procedures to minimize the chair’s powers to run the meetings, according to the email.

Ritz said she would fight to remain chair with a significant role and responsibilities.

“Last year, I was elected to lead the Indiana Department of Education and chair the State Board of Education,” she said. “This document shows that the CECI is attempting to change a governing structure that has worked for over 100 years, under both Democrats and Republicans.”

The email was found by Department of Education staff members looking through old emails for evidence of a possible secret meeting in October. Fiddian-Green’s email used to be housed on DOE servers.

Lou Ann Baker, spokeswoman for the center, said the proposal was an early iteration of possible ideas for the 2014 legislative session.

Baker said Pence shot it down and told Ritz directly last week he does not support the legislative change when she pulled the email out and confronted him about it in a private meeting.

“It’s pretty clear the state board didn’t get the memo,” Ritz spokesman Daniel Altman said.

Ritz’s revelation came following an orientation meeting Wednesday of the State Board of Education largely focused on issues with board procedures and agendas.

Several members talked about the need to amend rules. Some of the things that appeared to be an issue included getting specific items on the agenda, who would adjourn meetings and what to do when Ritz unilaterally declares motions illegal or improper.

But the board couldn’t offer up specific proposals to make changes to her powers as chairwoman because the gathering wasn’t considered an open public meeting under state law.

For months, the undercurrent of the board has been that Ritz isn’t following rules established by the board in May. Ritz has said repeatedly – including Wednesday – that she is negotiating with Pence’s office on revisions to those procedures.

But board member Tony Walker said the board approves the procedures – not the governor.

“Having discussions with the governor about how to deal with the board members while ignoring the board is not good,” he said.

Others noted that in the meantime the established board procedures should still be followed.

Ritz remained mostly quiet during Wednesday’s tense discussion.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt warned repeatedly that the board couldn’t discuss amendments to procedures since it was just an orientation session. This is allowed under state law and doesn’t require posting notice to the public. Any movement toward taking action should be in a normal public meeting, he said.

Board member Dan Elsener suggested a possible special meeting before the next regular meeting on Dec. 20 to iron out procedure issues. Three members of the board can set a special meeting.

Kris Amundson, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, facilitated Wednesday’s meeting. Amundson pointed out that only Indiana and Oklahoma have an elected superintendent and board appointed by another statewide official.

She also stressed the board needs to adopt basic parliamentary rules and possibly have a parliamentarian on hand.

In a break during informal discussion, Amundson joked the board could meet every day until Christmas and not resolve the issues at hand.

nkelly@jg.net

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