A kid outside the popular clique impresses so many classmates — especially those belittled by the in-crowd — that she wins the election for class president. Irked by her encroachment into their hallway hierarchy, the preppies shun her. They snub her idea for school spirit rallies. They plan their own homecoming bonfire to compete with the traditional one she’ll preside over. She arranges a wear-our-school-colors day for Fridays; they wear them on Thursdays.
You have to wonder how a school principal or counselor would handle such behavior. What word would they use to describe such disrespect?
Someone within the leadership of the majority party ruling Indiana government should step up and be the metaphorical football team captain who breaks ranks with the clique and shows up at the class president’s bonfire. A Republican in a power position at the Statehouse should stand beside Glenda Ritz and affirm her authority to perform the duties of state superintendent of public instruction — the full duties of that job, just as an overwhelming number of Hoosiers elected her to do last November.
Since taking office in January, Ritz has seen her office’s powers usurped and circumvented by an ideological circle ruling Indiana government still stung by her surprising electoral defeat of Republican former state superintendent Tony Bennett. Though Ritz was a lifelong Republican, the veteran teacher ran as a Democrat to challenge Bennett, a national star of the school-reform movement. Though outspent by a 10-to-1 margin, Ritz received more than 1.3 million votes. Ritz polled more votes for superintendent than Mike Pence, a former Republican congressman, did in his narrow victory in the governor’s race.
The most powerful of Bennett’s allies have yet to accept that outcome. Their rejection of Ritz’s authority has reached a level of incivility beyond any in recent memory within the state education structure.
Last spring, Pence and aligned GOP legislators essentially created a second state education department to go around Ritz. They shifted $5 million for staffing the State Board of Education from Ritz’s office to the governor’s, setting up a new career-training and education agency which Pence unveiled in August. A more overt attempt by Bennett backers in the Legislature to dilute Ritz’s role by overhauling the State Board and the Indiana Education Roundtable was appropriately stopped in the 2013 General Assembly session.
The shunning continues, though. Last month, one of the 10 members of the State Board — all appointed by either former Gov. Mitch Daniels or Pence — established a strategy planning committee to lead the board and determine priorities for the next three years. The new strategy panel is backed by all of the State Board members, except Ritz, who holds the chairperson’s seat as superintendent. By contrast, Ritz was backed by 1.3 million Hoosier voters.
Ritz campaigned hard in opposition to limits on teachers’ collective bargaining, private-school vouchers and the A-F school rating system pushed by Bennett, Daniels, national reformists and like-minded state lawmakers. Yet, since her term began, she has gone to great lengths to collaborate with those of opposing viewpoints. A solid core still refuses to work with her. Unless someone intercedes, the childish, detrimental tactics will continue, especially in the upcoming 2014 legislative session.
“I just think there will probably be things coming through the legislative process that will try to diminish my power as superintendent,” Ritz told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “They could include removing me as chair of the board; they could include overseeing more of my budget; they could include overseeing of data.”
Such ideological bullying should not happen. Indiana voters deserve better. In their behalf, a high-level Republican — perhaps House Speaker Brian Bosma — needs to be a voice of reason and publicly support Ritz in the manner of the loyal opposition. Hoosier school children need that hero.