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July 15, 2014

Letter from BOE member: Superintendent Ritz ‘creating conflict’

It has been my pleasure for the past year to serve as the newest member of the Indiana State Board of Education. I bring a fresh perspective to the board as an attorney and business executive who served as Director of Economic Development under former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and President of the Indy Partnership, a regional economic development organization charged with recruiting new companies to our state.

To me, education policy is economic policy. Without world-class schools, we can’t attract top talent and jobs to Indiana. And as the father of an Indianapolis Public Schools student, I have a personal stake in making sure our schools are the best they can be. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed firsthand the absolute chaos that now defines the State Board of Education under Superintendent of Public Instruction and Board Chair Glenda Ritz.

These meetings used to be staid, high-level debates about important education policy. There were disagreements, but there was a bipartisan commitment to putting our kids first. Now, the grueling get-togethers are more akin to high school student council meetings where 15-year-olds argue about soda machines and lunch menus.

I want to be clear: This is not a partisan issue. I’m a proud Democrat who can remember the days when my party held the Governor’s office and the Superintendent was a Republican. We never saw someone angrily walk out of a meeting, withhold information from fellow board members or file a frivolous lawsuit against them to make a political point. The media love to play up these recent flare-ups as a partisan battle between board members and the Superintendent. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bipartisan board is filled with professional members who are fully committed to the success of Hoosier schools and students, and we’ve seen great progress in recent years with Indiana’s improved national rankings and increased data available to parents as they decide which school is best for their children.

As a Democrat, I don’t know why the Superintendent insists on creating conflict where rational debate should instead exist. I have reached out to her on multiple occasions to sit down and talk through our differences. I hope she will change her mind and decide to work with us to promote an agenda of ideas instead of more empty, anti-everything rhetoric. The Superintendent was elected, but not as an education czar.

At the end of the day, Hoosier parents and teachers need not despair as they watch our board meetings play out. They should know that there are 10 members of the board who come to every meeting ready to put kids, not politics, first.

We have important issues to address, including the way we reward our best teachers, providing support to schools that need improvement and the Indiana Department of Education’s handling of a federal waiver that has placed hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for high-need schools in jeopardy. In short, we have to get back to the mission of making Indiana schools the best in the nation so that Hoosier children leave high school ready to compete in a global economy.

I hope the Superintendent wants to be part of that mission, but if she chooses to continue on the path she has charted, rest assured there are plenty of professionals at the table who will make sure the job gets done.

— Gordon Hendry

At-large member

Indiana State Board of Education

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