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