News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 19, 2012

EDITORIAL: Electing schools chief provides balance

Hoosiers should keep position as elective

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — After losing the state Superintendent of Public Instruction race to an insurgent Democrat in the Nov. 6 election, some Republicans in the Indiana Statehouse now want to change the rules to make the position appointive rather than elective. After all, had that regulation been in effect, Gov.-elect Mike Pence could have appointed the now-one-term-and-out Tony Bennett to four more years or could have found another Republican who met gubernatorial favor on school issues.

Instead, voters spoke loudly — and clearly — that Bennett’s style, if not his substance, was one of too much too soon with too little respect for the many good teachers who toil daily in our kindergarten through 12th-grade public school classrooms.

In that election, the majority of voters (53 percent, a 150,000-vote margin) repudiated Bennett’s four-year foot race to give schools letter grades (A-F) that many see as punitive and more reflective of socio-economic effects than of the quality of teaching; to emasculate teacher unions and local school boards on contract issues; to use a dusty state law to take control of so-called failing schools and outsource those schools from local school board oversight to private companies; and to disburse state-funded vouchers to pay tuition for students in private schools. Among other things.

That statement from voters makes the best argument we can think of for why the state superintendent position should remain elective, as it was designated in Indiana’s 1851 Constitution, rather than appointive, as it was at times last century for governors of both parties.

Few issues are more vital to our state than education — probably just health care, public safety, law and order, and employment.

And on all of those other issues, the voting public has the power to affect change, to issue approval, to oust miscreants, to re-elect public servants, to call for changes in direction. Certainly, voters exercised that power here and elsewhere concerning county, state and federal officeholders in the most recent election.

The situation should be no different for Indiana’s public primary and secondary education. The voter — in this case, the teacher, the parent, the principal, even the 18-year-old student — had a say in the matter of who should lead and direct Indiana’s public school education. We, of course, happen to believe the voters chose wisely in selecting Glenda Ritz.

That she — running as a Democrat — will have a tough time surrounded by Republican power at every turn in Indianapolis does not diminish the correctness of an elected state superintendent. In fact, it proves the point that a minority view is essential to our government as at least some balance on unrestrained power from either party.

We were glad to read that Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, the most powerful Indiana Republican after the current and future governors, has shelved, for now at least, plans to push to have the state superintendent position again made appointive.

That’s another thing voters won at the polls this time.