Panel backs allowing removal of Ritz as state board leader

Glenda Ritz
At the Statehouse Thursday, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz confronted Republicans who are looking to strip some of her authority on the State Board of Education.

Superintendent Ritz knew she was walking into a fire storm and she was ready.

The House Education Committee was there to debate and vote on a bill that would strip the superintendent's position as chair of the State Board of Education. Republicans who maintain a majority on the committee were all in favor of the move, but Superintendent Ritz was not going to let it happen without speaking out.

"The Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction has held the position of chair of the State Board of Education for over 100 years. Indiana chose to have its highest-ranking elected authority on education be the chair and the 2012 elected Superintendent should be afforded this role," Ritz told the committee.

After she read her statement, she turned and walked out, even as a Democrat tried to ask a question.

The bill, would allow Republican Gov. Mike Pence's 10 appointees to the 11-member board to elect their own chair. passed by an 8-3 vote. It is now headed to the full House for action.

Ritz supporters say that action and another bill shifting authority over several education policy areas away from her Department of Education go against the will of the voters who elected her to office.

Ritz's full remarks:

"I knew a year and a half ago that I would be before this General Assembly regarding this political issue of removing the Superintendent as the Chair of the State Board of Education. The Governor's staff made it clear that the Governor wanted his appointed State Board of Education to decide their own chair.

The Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction has held the position of chair of the State Board of Education for over 100 years. Indiana chose to have its highest-ranking elected authority on education be the Chair and the 2012 elected Superintendent should be afforded this role.

Voters view the election of the Superintendent to be a non-partisan position. Look at the voting statistics through history and you will find that the people vote for the person that they feel can best serve Indiana students, regardless of political party. This political power move in HB 1609 and other similar bills is unnecessary and will do nothing to resolve the real governance issues that this policy-making body must address.

The political climate of my election has caused power struggles among the Governor's appointed State Board of Education, the Department of Education, and the Superintendent because the roles of each are not clearly defined in law. This body must define the roles of these three entities in order for the conflicts to be resolved, and this will take time and dialogue to review the statute to define the roles.

You are the policy-making body, and I urge you to pause during this session from assigning any role changes, or any additional allocation of money to the State Board of Education, until there has been a thorough review of statute with all the parties involved. There should be a full summer study committee dedicated to this topic of defining roles. This will provide much needed accountability to both the General Assembly and the voters.

Let's get beyond the politics and look at your policy direction over the last two years and the work that has been accomplished. As Superintendent, I take your policy decisions very seriously, and I have worked with members of this General Assembly, the Education Roundtable, the State Board of Education, and the Governor's office to implement your policy.

· In 2013 the Indiana legislature set us down the path of developing new, uniquely Hoosier, state academic standards. To make this happen, we worked alongside the Governors' office, CECI, members of the SBOE and their staff, legislative leadership, educators, and the people of Indiana. Together, we waded through some tough political waters, yet we worked together and are now working under state standards that are, to quote Governor Pence, “for Hoosiers, by Hoosiers”.

· Working with the Governor's administration, our new college and career ready assessment has been developed and vendors for our assessment system are being determined. There will be ongoing policy decisions regarding our assessment system, but we have a mutual goal of ensuring that our students will not need remediation when they leave our K-12 education system.

· We worked with leaders of the General Assembly and the Governor's office to create an honest A-F accountability model. This individual student growth-based model is a result of a diverse panel of appointed educators and technical experts that engaged in lengthy discussions on how to accurately measure student growth and performance and apply them to a fair and transparent accountability model. The State Board of Education has approved the rule for public input and our new system will be in place for the 2015-16 school year.

Amongst the politics and the collaborative work, I undertook the task of improving operations, customer service, accountability, and transparency of the Department of Education. We have engaged in a department-wide strategic planning process to break down silos to provide optimal service, expanded our means of communications to the field and parents, and launched a highly successful school improvement support system through our on-the-ground outreach coordinators. Our community partnerships are widespread to wraparound much needed services to our students.

Put simply, I have spent the last two years doing what the General Assembly asked and what our schools needed. Yes, there has been politics, but the discourse and debate has led to good policy implementation and positive change in our education system for students.

These are changes that a Superintendent cannot do alone. I needed, and will continue to require the assistance of everyone involved to implement your policy. I welcome the public dialogue about education. I do not, and will not, avoid public conversation and debate where the future of our children's system of education is at stake."