Glenda Ritz: Resolution violated Indiana law


This morning the tension remains high in the state's education system as the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Governor's office fight for control.

The battle heated up Wednesday when Superintendent Glenda Ritz stormed out of a meeting with the Board of Education.

It happened during a discussion on a proposal to shift oversight of career readiness programs to an agency controlled by Gov. Mike Pence. Ritz says the resolution violates Indiana law.

At issue are the grades given to schools to help the state evaluate how those schools are doing.  In Wednesday's meeting, Board members tried to force a motion to transfer control of those grades from Ritz's office to an agency created by the governor.

It's the latest flap in an ongoing battle for power within the Board of Education.

At a news conference a few hours later, Ritz told reporters she was elected as Indiana's chief education officer to be an advocate for public education, to coordinate education policy and to serve as a "check and balance" to Gov. Mike Pence and the state Board of Education.

"Gov. Pence, through his newly created education agency, the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI), is undermining the exceptional work done every day by the Department of Education," said Ritz.

She said the rift is causing "great, unnecessary conflict in education which does nothing to serve Indiana's children."

Ritz said a resolution written by CECI staff "improperly inserted state Board of Education staff working for the governor's new education agency to take over the academic standards review process."

Ritz cited Indiana law, which states that the process of evaluating academic standards is the responsibility of the Dept. of Education.

"After that review, the academic standards go to the education roundtable and finally to the State Board of Education for adoption. The resolution was ruled improper because it used CECI staff in a manner that violates Indiana law," she said.

"I have said previously that I will not tolerate violations of the law, be they open door violations or improper motions. The public demands nothing less. I have requested an advisory opinion from the Attorney General on the improper motion that was brought during today's meeting. I look forward to receiving his opinion and continuing to work with all Hoosiers to strengthen public education for our children," Ritz said.

However, in a letter to the Indianapolis Star, Gov. Pence said, "CECI consolidates the education and workforce responsibilities of the governor in a way that removes barriers that exist for our students, workers and employers. It does so without taking any authority away from the Department of Education."

Other board members appointed by the governor remained in the meeting room Wednesday. A Pence administration lawyer said she would ask the attorney general's office whether they could take action without Ritz, who is the board's chairwoman.

The latest rift came shortly after the board approved a new outline for the state's A-F school grades.

Ritz on Tuesday accused Pence of trying for a "complete takeover" of state education policy. But a Pence spokeswoman says he's been working in good faith with Ritz. 

Pence calls it a misunderstanding.

The board voted 9-1 Wednesday to approve new school grade categories and broadly accept the recommendations of a bipartisan panel formed in the wake of the Tony Bennett grade-changing scandal earlier this year. But the details of how those grades are determined will be set throughout next year.

The vote was a rare and short-lived moment of unity between Ritz and the other members of the board in an ongoing education war. Ritz accused Gov. Mike Pence Tuesday of conducting a "complete takeover" of education policy over the past month. A Pence spokeswoman said he has worked "in good faith" with Ritz.

Eyewitness News reporter Rich Van Wyk reported from the meeting that some school board members expressed doubts and concerns about being ready to approve a new school grading system. 

The school grades have recently taken on greater importance as part of a broad education overhaul. They are used in part to determine teacher pay, school funding and takeover status.

They are also the focus of continuing political drama. A judge recently dismissed a lawsuit Ritz filed against other education board members over calculation of the grades.

Statement from ISTA:

With an abrupt ending to today's meeting, Indiana educators saw the result of the governor-appointed members of the State Board of Education continuing to undermine the authority of Indiana's duly-elected State Superintendent Glenda Ritz. "A year ago, voters elected Ritz to lead our state's educational programs," said Teresa Meredith, ISTA President. "Soon after bills were drafted undermining her authority. When those efforts failed, Gov. Mike Pence, ignoring 1.3 million voters and through an executive order the legality of which ISTA continues to question, created at taxpayers' expense a duplicate Department of Education - the Center for Education and Career Innovation." Through these actions, Pence perpetuates the ugly climate and escalates the gridlock displayed today. "Educators wouldn't tolerate such disrespectful behavior in their classrooms, and citizens shouldn't tolerate it from non-elected State Board members and the governor who appointed them," said Meredith.