Ritz, Pence and Indiana's education battle
Saturday, November 16, 2013 4:00 AM
The rift between Glenda Ritz and the Mike Pence appointed State Board of Education isn't going to heal itself.
The acrimony between Ritz, in her first year as the state's elected superintendent of public instruction, and the rest of the board of education is worsening.
An editorial in the Lafayette Journal and Courier described the relationship as having gone from soap opera to certified mess in recent weeks, including Ritz's open meetings lawsuit against the state board and her abrupt walkout at Wednesday's board meeting.
The issue: Who is going to shepherd the state's education policy? In this ongoing saga, it's a battle between Ritz and what she sees as the one-two punch of the state board and the governor's newly formed Center for Education and Career Innovation.
By Wednesday afternoon, the best bit of advice came via Andrea Neal, a state board of education member, as quoted by Chalk Beat Indiana reporter Scott Elliott: "This dysfunction is evident for everyone to see. The breakdown of trust is serious. We need some kind of reconciliation process to move forward ..."
The tensions have been building almost since the day Ritz, a Democrat, beat Republican Tony Bennett. Ritz vowed during her campaign to slow down the momentum Bennett was gaining and at least give schools a chance to breathe and adjust to a new educational landscape.
After a cordial beginning, the friction between Ritz and Gov. Pence has grown.
In October, Ritz escalated matters by suing the board of education for what she called an open meetings violation, when the board sent a letter - minus her signature or knowledge - to legislative leaders to get outside help on producing the state's A-F grades for schools. That lawsuit was dismissed last week when a judge ruled Ritz didn't have standing to sue.
On Tuesday, in a letter to the public, Ritz accused the governor of a "power grab" as he shifts some education policy matters to the Center for Education and Career Innovation.
That was a precursor to Wednesday, when a State Board of Education meeting turned into a Robert's Rules of Order battle. Who was in control was more important than what was getting done.
Ritz, who serves as chairwoman of the state board, adjourned the meeting and stormed out rather than let Center for Education and Career Innovation staff insert themselves into a policy question. The state board continued meeting, until attorneys told them that it would be best to stop.
The push-pull between the Department of Education and the state board is just going to get worse until ground rules are re-established. A mediator needs to be brought in to find a workable solution.