Ritz Discusses Walkout, Feud With Local Supporters
By Mike Perleberg
(Greendale, Ind.) – Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz claims that Governor Mike Pence is trying to takeover state education policy.
Ritz, a Democrat, argued with board members at Wednesday’s meeting of the Indiana Board of Education when it was proposed that the Center for Education and Career Innovation be allowed to gather input on academic standards for math and language arts. The duty is currently the responsibility of the Indiana Department of Education, which Ritz heads.
“Indiana law is clear. The process of evaluating academic standards is the responsibility of the Department of Education. After that review, the academic standards go to the education roundtable and finally to the State Board of Education for adoption,” Ritz said in a press conference following the meeting.
Ritz says she gave the Board of Education multiple opportunities to make the resolution legal. When no compromise could be met, Ritz, the board president, abruptly left the meeting. The remaining board members discussed whether to continue the meeting, but ultimately decided to adjourn.
The scene at the meeting followed a letter to Indiana media published earlier this week in which Ritz accused Pence, a Republican, of trying to overtake the state’s education policy from the Department of Education.
The CECI was created by Pence earlier this year. The new agency has already overtaken funding of the Indiana Board of Education, which was previously under the IDOE.
Following her “interesting” day at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Ritz appeared in Greendale Wednesday evening for a previously scheduled meeting with supporters. She said that during the earlier board meeting that she suggested members table the CECI accountability measure pending a review by the Indiana Attorney General.
“They were insistent that they were going to take it to a motion, to a vote. They got very out of hand, very rude to me. I could not move the agenda forward so I adjourned the meeting and they were not happy campers with that,” Ritz said to applause from the crowd of about 30 people at the Dobell House Restaurant.
The first-term state superintendent said Pence’s CECI is in essence overseeing the IDOE. The takeover, she claimed, started with the removal of money from the Department of Education during the budget process.
“You should see the legal briefs that go on on a very regular basis regarding any action that comes from my department, then the board believes it and then they start doing silly stuff,” Ritz said.
The creation of the CECI equates to tax dollars being used to duplicate services, she said.
PENCE WRITES A RESPONSE
Following Ritz’s letter, Governor Mike Pence issued his own letter to the editor at the Indianapolis Star Wednesday afternoon.
Pence wrote that Indiana is improving at the second-fastest rate of any state in the country. Continuing the momentum, the governor said, were an increase in school funding during the last legislative session, new performance funding for teachers, and an extension of high-quality school options to more children – a nod to the state’s private school voucher program.
He said that he does regret that the Department of Education and the superintendent have misunderstood his sincere desire to work with them on behalf of Indiana’s children.
The governor reasoned that the Center for Education and Career Innovation was established to break “down the silos that exist between K-12 schools, higher education and workforce development.” The governor, Pence said, is responsible for higher education and workforce development, which the CECI consolidates.
Pence wrote that the CECI has hired distinguished education and workforce experts, some of whom worked for the superintendent and some of whom worked for her predecessor.
“CECI’s co-director, Claire Fiddian-Green, is a lifelong Democrat whose strong background in bipartisan education reform reflects my commitment to take politics out of the development of education policy in Indiana,” Pence told the Star.
In closing, Pence said that the future of Indiana education and young people has never been brighter.
“It’s time to put conflict behind us and work together for the benefit of our kids and their futures,” he said.
RITZ FEELS HOOSIERS SUPPORT HER
Ritz defeated incumbent Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett in the November 2012 election by a 53 to 47 percent margin.
“If you look at it statistically I was elect by Republicans. A Democrat cannot get elected without having Republican votes in the State of Indiana,” Ritz said, adding her campaign was run on $300,000 compared to Bennett’s $1.3 million.
She told the supporters the election was a non-partisan referendum on the education reforms being which Bennett was seeking, and was sometimes successful, in implementing.
“People were very concerned with the direction we were going with high-stakes testing and a variety of things that were coming down the pike. Most people didn’t really know me at all. Most people voted for me because they didn’t really like Tony Bennett,” Ritz said.
As illustrated by the CECI episode, Ritz is not having an easy time in bringing about her vision for Indiana education. All of the Indiana Board of Education members were appointed by Pence or his Republican governor predecessors, many of whom supported Bennett’s ideas.
An “arrogant” Bennett – who resigned as Florida’s appointed Education Commissioner earlier this year following an alleged scandal involving Indiana’s school grading system and a grade change for a Republican donor’s Indianapolis charter school – is back in Indiana, said Ritz. Bennett could be a force with a new education policy organization, she said.
“He thinks that he’s got a big crowd that’s going to support that, but it’s really in Pence’s office. That’s what this is about. It’s his policy group against my policy group and trying to take over what I was elected to do,” Ritz told the audience.
Ritz has support from the Indiana State Teachers Association, which backed her election. ISTA President Teresa Meredith said in a statement that the IBOE and lawmakers are continuing to undermine the authority of Indiana’s duly-elected state superintendent.
“A year ago, voters elected Ritz to lead our state’s educational programs,” said Meredith. “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.”
Ritz would also visit with educators in Brookville later Wednesday evening.