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Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz clashes with State Board of Education

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November 14, 2013

First term superintendent Glenda Ritz (D) walked out of meeting with State Board of Education over disagreement on new policy proposal.

By Maresa Strano

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana: Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz (D) caused a stir this week when she abruptly bailed out of a meeting with the State Board of Education.[1] What ignited such a strong negative reaction in the first term officeholder was a discussion about a plan to expand the role of the new Center for Education and Career Innovation. "Truly, an improper motion means the motion itself interferes with statutory obligations," Ritz said of the motion to vote on the proposal to give the Center, created by Gov. Mike Pence (R) this summer, more say in the shaping of state education policy.

Ritz, believing the plan to be in clear violation of Indiana state law, grew sufficiently frustrated by one board member's remarks that, “You are not the attorney general...We are a public entity. We have the right to vote. No chair can stop us," that she left the room, bringing progress on the issue to a screeching halt.[2]

This recent controversy coheres with the power struggle - Ritz versus Pence - over who controls the State Board of Education that has been a theme of Ritz' tenure in the office thus far. As superintendent, Ritz chair's the Board; as governor, Pence appoints its members.

To provide temporal context for the conflict in addition to structural, the day before she walked out, Ritz sent an op-ed to a number of media outlets that asserted Pence had designs on consolidating authority over the Board under the governor's office. In the op-ed, she pointedly restated her commitment to "strengthen the Department of Education, not have it dismantled."[2] Less than a week before it went to print, a judge ruled against Ritz in a lawsuit she had filed against the Board, claiming the panel broke the law by convening without her permission while she was out of town. In Ritz' view, the possibility of enacting a plan to increase the influence of Pence's nascent education agency in setting statewide education standards counts as yet another example of the Board skirting state law and facilitating Pence's overreach on education.[3]

The failure of the board and Ritz to immediately resolve this disagreement is understandable, given each side's present opinion of the other. "I’m deeply disappointed in what transpired here today," said board member Gordon Hendry," a fellow Democrat, about Ritz' behavior. However, members have conceded to Ritz in light of her recent protestations and the resultant public focus on the matter. At least temporarily, the panel has opted not to push for a vote on the motion.[3][4]

Ritz was elected superintendent on November 6, 2012, after a hotly contested race that ended in her narrowly ousting incumbent Republican Tony Bennett. Bennett was unanimously approved for appointment as Florida Commissioner of Education on December 12, 2012 and assumed office as commissioner on January 14, 2013, the same day Ritz was sworn in to succeed him in the Indiana office.[5][6] Bennett resigned August 1, amid revelations that, while he was still superintendent in Indiana, he tampered with a charter school's grading system in order to protect his relationship with a powerful Republican campaign donor.[7][8]

Ritz is a licensed teacher in elementary education and special education. Before becoming superintendent, Ritz worked as a Library Media Specialist at Crooked Creek Elementary School in the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, Indianapolis.[9]

See also