Ritz would lose post as board chair under bill passed by Senate

(Vote results for all Senate members on SB 1 are  shown on a screen shot following this article and also here. –  Admin.)

TheStatehouseFile.com
By Adam Lee
2/17/15

INDIANAPOLIS – The Senate passed a controversial bill Tuesday that removes state Superintendent Glenda Ritz as the chair of the State Board of Education and give its members the ability to elect their own leader.

Senate Bill 1, authored by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, would end an arrangement unique to Indiana and Oklahoma, which are the only states in which the elected superintendent of public instruction automatically serves as chair of the state board of education.

The bill also alters the composition and governance of the board. The number of members would drop from 11 down to nine. Four of those members would be appointed by the governor, two by the House speaker and two from the Senate president pro tem. The state superintendent would continue to serve on the board.

Those members would then choose a chair, which could be the superintendent. Holdman said the bill also allows the board to hire an executive director and staff to help tackle problems more efficiently.

The proposed change in policy has created strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

Sen. Timothy Lanane, D-Anderson, said that he had an “obligation to speak on behalf of the 1.3 million people” that voted for Ritz to be superintendent. Lanane called SB 1 dangerous and said it is a dispute over policy. He questioned how much more power legislators would take from the superintendent in the future.

“Somebody wants to take the superintendent of public instruction to the proverbial woodshed,” Lanane said. “It’s a woodshed made of politics by politics and for politics.”

But Sen. Brandt Hershman, R- Buck Creek, said SB 1 is about policy rather than the politics. He said the bill does not strip her of her power and she will continue to be an important factor in education.

“She has a budget of millions of dollars and a staff of hundreds of employees that will continue to have the responsibility of implementing the policy” the General Assembly sets, Hershman said.

Sen. Brent Waltz Jr., R-Greenwood, said the way the current board operates is dysfunctional – pointing out that Ritz had walked out on a board meeting and sued other members of the board. He said it is legislators’ responsibility to correct the process.

Others, including as [sic] Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, agreed there is dysfunction but argued that the bill would make things worse. He said taking away the superintendent’s position as chair and expecting her to be cooperative is going to cause more problems.

The bill passed the Senate 33-17 and now moves to the House, which has already passed legislation to remove Ritz as chair but does not change board appointments.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence said Tuesday that he supports letting the state board choose its own chair and objected to the characterization that it was stripping her of authority. However, Pence said he does not support provisions to reduce the number of appointments he can make to the State Board of Education.

Adam Lee is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

SB 1

Guest column: More than an elected office at stake in attack on Ritz

(Minor editing was done for readability. – Admin.)

John Gregg

John Gregg is a Democrat who served as speaker of the Indiana House and president of Vincennes University.

Special to The StatehouseFile.com
Guest Column
By John Gregg
2/10/15

On a cold January morning in 2001, I stood outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC with my two sons, then ages 8 and 7 to witness the inauguration of President George W. Bush.

As the ceremony began, my older son asked me “Dad why are we here, we’re Democrats?” As the crowd around us looked, then laughed, I told my sons we were there to witness the something uniquely American: the peaceful transfer of power. Americans may disagree with a candidate’s political philosophy, but we always respect the outcome of an election. It’s a bedrock principle of our great democracy.

In November of 2012, I experienced this up close and personal. After a long and hard fought election for governor, Hoosier voters chose Mike Pence over me. And while he certainly wasn’t my first choice, I accepted the decision and respected the will of the majority.

In that same election, Hoosiers made another choice. In very clear fashion, voters said they didn’t like what incumbent Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett was doing to public education in Indiana. They voted him out and voted Glenda Ritz in.

The governor and Republican majority in the Statehouse did not like, nor respect Superintendent Ritz’s hard earned victory. And, while they can’t undo the results of the actual election, through power grab after power grab they are doing essentially the same thing – and that’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous.

If the governor and the Republicans in the General Assembly want to make the superintendent an appointed position or make any other changes to the Department of Education, let’s have a public discussion about them that includes all the interested parties. Ramming these major changes through without public input just because you don’t like the voter’s choice is no way to make sound public policy or instill confidence in state government.

Our country and our system of government works because of that time honored idea of a peaceful transfer of power from one person to the next and, in some cases, one political party to another.  Unlike so many other countries, we don’t have riots, revolutions or violence. We hold faith in the process and the people’s vote.

And when you don’t like the policy or people in a particular office, you don’t attempt a coup or refuse to accept their legitimacy to hold office; you get ready for the next election and work to vote them out.

The tactics on display in the Indiana Statehouse to neuter a duly elected office holder on personal and political grounds are a gross subversion of our most basic democratic principles. And, regardless of your political party or your position on the issues facing Indiana schools, all Hoosiers should also be alarmed.

John Gregg is a Democrat and former speaker of the Indiana House. He’s also a former president of Vincennes University and ran for governor in 2012.

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

“…this has been at heart a high-stakes series of contentious policy debates for the past two years about the future of public education in Indiana.”

(The following is testimony given by Vic Smith, a retired educator, at the Indiana Senate Rules & Legislative Procedure Committee yesterday. The entire hearing was livestreamed and Dr. Smith’s comments begin at 1:32:41.) Vic’s Statehouse Notes #199 – February 3, … Continue reading