News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

October 10, 2013

Ritz expects effort to diminish her authority

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, said Wednesday she is wary of what she sees as a broad effort by Republicans to strip her power, amid growing tension between her and the State Board of Education she nominally chairs.

“I just think there will probably be things coming through the legislative process that will try to diminish my power as superintendent,” Ritz said Wednesday.  “They could include removing me as the chair of the board; they could include overseeing more of my budget; they could include overseeing of data.”

Ritz’s comments followed the first meeting Wednesday of a committee started despite her objections to set new goals for the Board of Education. But tension has grown in recent months between Ritz and board members who backed the education overhaul pushed by former Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett and former Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Ritz campaigned hard last year against new laws including limits on collective bargaining for teachers, school vouchers and a school grading system. But board members who support those changes, such as Dan Elsener, have scrapped with her recently.

Elsener caught Ritz off guard last month when he established a strategy planning committee to guide the board. Ritz fired back at a state board meeting last week, overruling a procedural request from Elsener to alter the board’s agenda.

Indiana’s school superintendent chairs the board of education, but a power struggle has ensued since her surprise victory in last year’s election. The strategy panel created by Elsener, with support from every board member except Ritz, will determine where the board focuses its efforts over the next three years.

Elsener pointed out that Wednesday’s relatively staid meeting was evidence there’s more collegiality on the board than there might appear from recent dust-ups.

“I thought today was very pleasant, and I thought that the board members — whether they’re governor-appointed or elected — worked quite intelligently and swiftly,” he said. “If there are personal differences ... the heck with that. Let’s focus on children.”

Ritz attended the afternoon meeting but said little.

Pence and Republican lawmakers, who supported Bennett’s and Daniels’ education overhaul, made a change in the state budget earlier this year that shifted $5 million for staffing the state board from Ritz’s office to the governor’s. Staffing for the state board now comes from a new agency Pence created in August to coordinate career training and education. Critics have derided it as a second education department to get around Ritz.

More blatant efforts to shift control of education from Ritz’s office were curbed during the honeymoon period earlier this year between newly elected officials. Measures filed by Bennett’s former chief of staff, state Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, that would have overhauled the board of education and altered the Indiana Education Roundtable were unsuccessful.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol in January for the 2014 session.

 

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