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State House votes to strip Ritz of board chair

(Vote results for all House members on HB 1609 are here. –  Admin.)

The Journal Gazette (Ft. Wayne)
By Niki Kelly
2/9/15

INDIANAPOLIS — The elected Superintendent of Public Instruction would no longer automatically chair the State Board of Education under a bill passed 58-40 by Republicans in the Indiana House on Monday.

Twelve Republicans voted against the measure, along with 28 Democrats.

More than a dozen House members intensely debated House Bill 1609 for about an hour. It would allow the 11 members of the board — including the superintendent — to elect their own chairman.

“It has now gone from dysfunctional to detrimental for students,” said GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma, who said he has spent two years serving as almost a full-time mediator between the Republican-dominated board and Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

“It doesn’t rob anyone of power.”

The vote came after Ritz supporters staged a “Twitter Storm” Sunday by flooding social media with comments in support — all hashtagged #iStandWithRitz.

And a public spat about ISTEP testing length between Ritz and Gov. Mike Pence exploded just hours before the vote — providing another example of problems for GOP members to point to.

But Democrats said Ritz was elected by 1.3 million voters and one of the key parts of her job is to chair the board. Taking away that major role in the middle of her term is unfair, they said.

House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath compared Republicans supporting the measure to a schoolyard bully.

“What is it that you are afraid of? This one lone Democratic voice?” he said. “Show restraint. Respect the voices of the voters.”

Northeast Indiana had two Republicans vote against the measure — Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Goshen, and Rep. Christopher Judy, R-Fort Wayne.

“I was sent here to represent my constituents,” Nisly said. “I’ve heard a good amount from them. This is something in my opinion that should wait until after the next election.”

Judy said he made a commitment to voters in his district that he wouldn’t support a change in governance structure during Ritz’ first term.

“They want to let the election process work.”

The only other area lawmaker to vote no was Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne.

nkelly@jg.net

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