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Ritz defiant as board acts to boost role

State education spat grows

– The State Board of Education passed several resolutions Wednesday seeking to dilute the power of Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

One gives the board approval of some items in a federal accountability waiver, while another starts a process to alter board procedures to curb Ritz’s authority.

Both passed 7-3 with Ritz opposing them.

She responded by questioning the authority of an appointed board to direct action by an elected official and the Indiana Department and Education. She said her attorneys are reviewing the legalities of the resolutions, and whether she will follow them “remains to be seen.”

“I believe they can pass resolutions, but they may not have the authority … to actually enact them,” said Ritz, a Democrat. “I was elected. I wasn’t appointed. I wasn’t hired by this board. I don’t work for that board. I am an elected official serving over the Department of Education and working on education policy.”

The board has several Democratic members but is appointed by Pence, and Republicans hold a majority.

The biggest bone of contention is the state board’s involvement – or lack thereof – in the waiver.

The U.S. Department of Education gave the state until the end of June to explain how it will correct problems found during a 2013 federal monitoring visit. Those issues include monitoring failing schools, evaluating teachers and principals, and reaching out to families and communities. Without the waiver, Indiana schools would lose flexibility on how to spend some of the $200 million a year in federal education funding they receive.

Board member Brad Oliver submitted the resolution, saying the board did not receive a complete copy of the waiver submission before it was filed.

“The intent of the resolution was not meant to be a criticism of the state Department of Education,” he said. “We are not out of the woods yet. I am simply trying to frame the board’s role.”

The resolution, for instance, requires Ritz to seek approval from the board for most amendments to the federal waiver. But Ritz said the waiver is a matter between her office and the federal government. The board has not been involved in the past, she said.

“It is an attempt solely to say my department is not doing its job. It’s actually insulting,” she said.

She also said that the Center for Education and Career Innovation – a separate education agency created administratively by Republican Gov. Mike Pence – on Tuesday sent a 28-page critique of the waiver submission to the U.S. Department of Education.

It said, “the SBOE has a responsibility under Indiana statute to establish education policy in Indiana. To not weigh in on the waiver submission which impacts key policy areas under the SBOE’s jurisdiction, including accountability, assessments and teacher evaluations, would be a failure to discharge the statutory responsibilities of the SBOE.”

Ritz said submitting that document – which questions dozens of parts of the waiver – does not send a good message to federal officials.

“It doesn’t surprise me the CECI did a critique. They critique my office daily,” she said.

Another resolution passed by the board Wednesday sends recommendations on rule changes to an ad hoc committee.

One of the proposed changes is to take the duty of scheduling meetings away from Ritz and give it to CECI. Also, it would allow board members to appeal last-minute agenda additions. Right now, Ritz has a veto.

Gail Zeheralis, a lobbyist for the Indiana State Teachers Association, said a mediator was brought in recently to help craft board procedures.

“What this looks like is, if you don’t get your way on something, look at the procedures again and change the rules,” she said. “Some respect should be given to the individual who put her name on the ballot and took that risk and was rewarded overwhelmingly.”

But board member Gordon Hendry said the rule changes are reasonable and would simply make the board more efficient.

“The voters elected (her) to be the superintendent of public instruction, which is very different than being the head of education in the state of Indiana,” said Hendry, who added that the governor, legislature and the board all have critical roles. “There is no such thing as an education czar in this state.”

Ritz refused to immediately appoint members to the ad hoc committee and hold a meeting Wednesday evening. She said she will act on the resolution for the August meeting.