State Superintendent Glenda Ritz at the Boots & Books display at the Indiana State Fair (wibc.com photo: Ray Steele)
The rift between the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent likely isn't going away. But the superintendent says the problems have less to do with the board and more to do with the agency that staffs it.
Speaking publicly for the first time since Wednesday's board meeting where she first revealed to the board a ten-month-old settlement with the maker of ISTEP, Superintendent Glenda Ritz said there was no reason for her to talk to the board about her office's negotiations with CTB/McGraw-Hill because of the division of powers between them. "That settlement was attached to the 2014-15 contract, which is going through the (review) process. I felt it was premature to talk about it, so (the board's) reaction is their reaction," Ritz said while attending a literacy event at the Indiana State Fair. "I followed the protocol on the contract, my department is responsible for the settlement, and we went about doing our job." Ritz offered the same line of reasoning on why reporters were told her department was still working on the settlement, even though it was signed in October 2013.
Left unsaid was whether Ritz may have withheld the information from the board due to the influence of the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI). When the agency was created by Governor Pence in August 2013, the staff for the state board was shifted from Ritz's department to CECI. While the superintendent would not say whether CECI's influence caused her to keep information about the ISTEP settlement from the board, Ritz did not hide her mistrust of the agency and iwhat it's staffers tell the board. "From my perspective, CECI is aiming for complete oversight in the implementation of policy from the Department of Education. It's been no secret that I feel that way, and that's what's happening."
Brad Oliver doesn't feel that way about CECI. Oliver was appointed to the state board by Governor Pence in June 2013 and has frequently complained about finding out information from Ritz and her department shortly before the board is due to take action. Most recently, Oliver and other board members believed Ritz avoided telling the rest of the board about objections raised by the U.S. Department of Education to Indiana's waiver from certain No Child Left Behind requirements. "Many of these things about the waiver, about the CTB/McGraw-Hill settlement would have been in the dark without CECI," Oliver said. "I am grateful they are there. They are providing a meaningful service to the state board right now."
The roots of the rift between Ritz and CECI predate the agency and probably go back to the November 2012 election, where Ritz upset Tony Bennett and became the only Democrat to hold statewide elective office. Soon afterward, some Republicans started wondering aloud whether the state superintendent should be elected or appointed by the governor, as they are in many states - soon after his loss, Bennett was appointed by Florida Governor Rick Scott to be Education Commissioner in that state, though he resigned in August 2013 after an ethics investigation began in Indiana. Though the governor and legislative leaders put an end to talk that the superintendent would become an appointee of the governor, Ritz was angered when she says she was told about CECI's creation on the morning that it was announced to the public, an account disputed by Pence's office. Ritz also says monthly meetings she held with the governor to talk about education policy ended after CECI was formed.
Oliver says personal issues with the governor are no reason for Ritz to not keep the rest of the board informed of matters like the terms of the ISTEP settlement, a settlement that will not pay any cash to the state if it is implemented. The proposed deal would have CTB/McGraw-Hill provide $3.3 million worth of mostly in-kind services as payment for testing disruptions in spring 2013. Though Ritz says the settlement is not final and the office of Attorney General Greg Zoeller says it is reviewing the deal, "the comments from CTB/McGraw-Hill's president (at the board meeting) show that she believes it's a done deal, and language in the settlement papers basically release CTB/McGraw-Hill from any additional damages," Oliver said, adding that the company seemed to believe the board already knew about the settlement.
"This is not leadership," Oliver said of Ritz's actions, adding that he has tried to make it clear to the superintendent that he and other board members don't want any of her powers. "We need to be working together so we don't find ourselves in an embarrassing place where we don't need to be. We make decisions best for our students when we have timely, accurate information and we work together to make decisions jointly."
"I have no reason not to believe him," Ritz said of Oliver. "That may be his perspective as a board member, but I don't think that's the perspective of CECI." She points to the memo on the No Child Left Behind waiver put out last month by CECI's co-director, Claire Fiddian-Green, also Governor Pence's special assistant for education innovation. The memo criticized the application for a renewal of the waiver submitted by Ritz and her department and said they made changes to the waiver without consulting the state board. "CECI wants to have oversight of my department. I expect the governor wants to codify his agency in the next legislative session. I don't expect (the relationship) to get better to be perfectly honest." Brad Oliver hopes that Ritz will at least try. "I would love to see the department not push CECI away but actually find a way to work with them and work with the board to accomplish our goals."