Ritz: Power grab outlined in Pence document

Glenda Ritz

Embattled Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz says Governor Mike Pence is after her job. The governor says it was just an idea that was floated and quickly discarded.

After months of trying to work together, a new strategy emerged Wednesday that has Ritz on the defensive over policy and her own job. The State Board of Education orientation was designed to bring all sides together. Three-and-a-half hours later, they were even further apart.

Expressions said it all. Ritz looked shell-shocked at times while board members looked downright exasperated.

"I'm just asking, are you aware of the statute? That can be a yes or a no," board member Tony Walker exclaimed.

Board members tried to get answers regarding the legislative authority of the office Ritz currently holds.

"There has been a great misconception that the Superintendent is the public policy maker for education in the state. That is not how we are set up," board member Tony Brown exclaimed.

Ritz is chairwoman of the education board, but the other 10 members have been appointed by either Pence or former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

"I will say that the board is the entity that has statutory language about setting policy," a policy point person informed the board.

That cleared up, members turned their attention to why the meeting was not posted as an open meeting when many members requested it.

"I had a conversation with the governor. The governor and I said we thought the best way to begin to build relationships was to have an orientation. From my perspective I am simply doing what the governor suggested to me in our private meeting and so there is no intent from me in any way to do anything but have an orientation. Being our dialogue about issues and that there is nothing else to it. It is that simple. From that perspective, I just want to put that out there," Ritz informed the board.

That drew the ire of Walker, who is from Gary.

"Any discussions with the governor are irrelevant to what we are doing here. The governor is not on the board. With all due respect, Madam Chair, talking to the governor about to deal with the board while ignoring the board members is not a good way for moving forward," Walker retorted.

But Ritz saved the most alarming revelation for afterwards when she revealed a policy document from Governor Pence's Center for Education and Career Innovation, which outlines reasons for removing her as Chair of the Board and making the position appointed rather than elected.

It reads, "Problem: The Superintendent of Public Instruction serves as the Chair of the SBOE. Indiana is one of only two states whereby the elected Superintendent, who heads the administrative department, is also Chair of the policymaking State Board. This introduces real as well as perceived conflicts of interest."

As a proposed solution, the document goes on to say "revise the statute to provide that the Governor appoints the Chair of the State Board of Education from among the gubernatorial appointments."

Ritz stormed out of a board meeting last month after a Pence-appointed member pressed a measure Ritz said would shift power from her office. She previously sued other board members alleging violation of the state's public access laws.

The governor's office says Ritz is playing games. All this sets the stage for the board's next scheduled public meeting December 20.