By Paige Clark
State Board of Education members nabbed more control away from Democratic Superintendent Glenda Ritz when they passed resolutions that gave the board more control over their meetings and more oversight of education policy.
In a tense, eight-hour meeting, Ritz – who chairs the board – tried to fight the proposals but was overruled by other members, all of whom were appointed by Republican governors.
At one point, Ritz ruled a board-backed resolution to give the members more authority over a proposed waiver of federal No Child Left Behind Law rules “out of order” – a decision she lost on appeal.
The state was evaluated in August 2013 on how well it had complied with the current NCLB waiver. The Indiana Department of Education expected to hear back from the U.S. Department of Education within 45 days with results, but a federal government shutdown delayed the results until spring, which put state officials into a rush to meet federal expectations.
Officials alerted Ritz in May that there were several problems with the state’s current waiver. The DOE then wrote a new waiver and submitted it to the U.S. Department of Education on June 30.
But some of the board members said Wednesday they felt they were not kept in the loop during the waiver process.
“I want to be very clear that the intent of the resolution, despite how it was articulated by the chair, was not meant to be a criticism of the state department of education,” said Brad Oliver, who authored the resolution to give the board more authority over the waiver.
He said he felt Ritz didn’t give the board members information as they needed it regarding the waiver.
Ritz then slammed a large stack of paper onto the table. She thumbed through the stacks and said that the papers in front of her were e-mail transcripts between the board and herself.
“I make no apologies, Brad Oliver, about you not having a final copy to do one final review. Because, quite frankly, this board did not have an approval process of the submission of this waiver,” Ritz said. “I am not going to entertain an actual resolution that gives you authority to do those things and direct my department where it does not have authority to direct.”
She continued to say that the resolution was wasteful and that it suggested that the Department of Education was not doing their job.
But board member Dan Elsener said board’s battles with the superintendent have “never been personal and it’s never been political.” The crowd groaned and laughed at the seven-hour mark of the meeting.
“I reject this resolution,” Ritz said and ruled it was “out of order.”
After a few minutes of disagreement from Ritz’s attorney and the board’s attorney, her decision was appealed and passed – seven to three.
The board also acted to undermine Ritz with a resolution to change board procedures, which outraged her supporters in the audience.
“There are many of us in the state, 1.3 million that voted for Superintendent Ritz,” said Lynn Richard Nelson, a retired professor of history education. “And we do not share your educational philosophy.”
The resolution would allow board members to set meeting times and add items to the agenda easier, without the approval of the chair.
“The public deserves to comment,” said board member Andrea Neal. “This resolution makes it too easy to add last minute items.”
Ritz said the resolution was “especially insulting” to her.
Vic Smith – a former educator who tracks school policy – said the resolution is a “political move to reduce the powers of the state elected superintendent.”
Neal urged board members to vote against the resolution, but it passed 7-3.
Raised voices and eye rolling led to a 10 minute recess before the board continued on with less controversial business.
After the meeting, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said it’s “getting beyond tiresome to see monthly power grabs.”
“This nonsense must stop…but it won’t,” Pelath said. “The board will continue to pick away and pick away until there is no way for Hoosiers to have a say in the way their children are educated.”
And one of the board’s newest members, Gordon Hendry, said before the break that he was tired of the meetings being a “media sideshow” and “for the wrong reasons.”
Paige Clark is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.