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July 29, 2013

Rift widens between education officials, superintendent

GOP-controlled state Board of Education gives Ritz cold shoulder

INDIANAPOLIS —

Back in June, when Republican Gov. Mike Pence appointed four new members to the policy-making state Board of Education, Democrat Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz issued a statement saying she looked forward to working with the new board on such “critical issues” as improving school and teacher accountability, increasing literacy and strengthening academic standards for Hoosier children.

But the board may not be that interested in working with her. 

At its July meeting, the board voted to move ahead with hiring its own executive director, and potentially additional staff, to do the kind of strategic planning and research that was once done by the Department of Education when it was run by Republican Tony Bennett.  

The budget approved by the GOP-controlled General Assembly in April sets aside more than $6 million for the next two years for the State Board of Education (though not all for personnel) and the board intends to exert more control over those dollars, now that Ritz is in office.

As one of the board members said, in voting to go ahead with hiring its own staff, what the board does is not always “consistent” with the Ritz’s DOE. The board’s new staff will be working through the governor’s office, the board decided, so isn’t answerable to Ritz.

The rift between the new superintendent and the board has been apparent since Ritz took office, after beating Bennett last November on a decidedly anti-education-reform platform. She capitalized on a backlash against Bennett, who’d become the face of the education overhaul championed by Pence’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. 

When Bennett was in office, the state board — all gubernatorial appointees in line with Daniels’ education agenda — relied on Bennett and the DOE staff to make the case for education reform. Now the board has to deal with a superintendent and a DOE staff making the case against it. 

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