Indiana News

State Board of Education Meeting Ends in Turmoil

11/13/2013


Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz (WIBC.com file photo: Mike Corbin)

The feud between state school superintendent Glenda Ritz and the State Board of Education has boiled over again, with a chaotic end to the latest board meeting.

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The board was discussing the ongoing review of Common Core curriculum standards when board member Brad Oliver moved to allow board staff to coordinate with Department of Education staffers to ensure the board receives information on the discussions. Instead of allowing a vote, Ritz declared the meeting adjourned and left.

Board members tried to reorganize the meeting, but gave up after the plug was pulled on a live stream of the meeting on YouTube.

In a brief meeting with reporters, Ritz declared she had no choice but to adjourn the meeting to block what she says was an illegal motion. She argues the department has sole authority to evaluate academic standards, with the board’s role limited to the end of the process.

Ritz contends the confrontation is further proof of her charge of a “power grab” by Governor Pence with the creation of the Center for Education and Career Innovation, an umbrella agency overseeing the board and seven other agencies.

Ritz had objected earlier in the meeting to a similar move to allow board staff working with a panel that's drafting a formula for assigning A-to-F grades for schools, but ended up voting for the motion.

The blowup is the latest in a series of battles between the superintendent and the board over the boundaries of authority over education policy. Last week, a judge threw out Ritz's lawsuit against the other 10 board members, accusing them of violating the Open Door Law in appealing to legislative leaders for help compiling ISTEP data.

Ritz is the only Democrat in statewide office. By law, the other board members must be evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, but they're appointed by the governor -- all the current members were appointed either by Pence or his predecessor Mitch Daniels, both Republicans.

Board members charge Ritz has failed to communicate with them. Oliver says he moved to involve board staff in the Common Core discussion because he'd had no response to informal requests for information. He says he met with Ritz and Department of Education staffers ahead of time to discuss his proposal, with no indication Ritz would block a vote. Ritz contends she told Oliver the proposal was illegal. She says she's asked Attorney General Greg Zoeller for an advisory opinion to back her up.

Board member Gordon Hendry says he's "deeply disappointed" in the renewed hostilities. He says he thought communications were improving after the lawsuit was dismissed.

Some board members float the idea of an air-clearing retreat, or appointing a parliamentarian to cut through frequent clashes over how board meetings should run. Oliver says there's no choice but for both sides to find a way to work together.

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