Ritz issues statement after abruptly adjourning, leaving meeting

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INDIANAPOLIS – Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, locked in a power struggle with the governor and the Republican-dominated State Board of Education, walked out of Wednesday’s board meeting over a disputed resolution.

Ritz said Gov. Mike Pence, his newly appointed Center for Education and Career Innovation and the board are attempting to usurp the authority and work of her staff.

“CECI is undermining the exceptional work done every day by the Department of Education,” Ritz told reporters after she abruptly adjourned the monthly meeting. “The resolution was ruled improper because it used CECI staff in a manner that violates Indiana law.”

At issue was a resolution that would assign board staff and CECI personnel the responsibility for overseeing implementation of new assessments of the state’s A-F grading system for public schools.

“The resolution which brought today’s meeting to a half was written by CECI staff and it improperly inserted state Board of Education staff working for the governor’s new education agency to take over the academic review standards process,” said Ritz.

The superintendent was recently on the losing end of an Indiana Attorney General decision to block her lawsuit against the board alleging violation of the state Open Meetings Act.

Ritz said she will ask Attorney General Greg Zoeller for an advisory opinion on the legality of the resolution.

“The conduct of some board members and the governor’s CECI staff made it impossible for us to move forward with our business,” said Ritz. “Because of this I was left with no choice to adjourn the meeting.”

Ritz said that the overhaul of the A-F system must be completed at the December board meeting which has not yet been set.

Ritz released the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

I was elected as Indiana’s chief education officer to be an advocate for public education.  I have the duty to coordinate education policy, and serve as a check and balance to Governor Pence and the State Board of Education.

The resolution that brought today’s meeting to a halt, confirms what I said yesterday in a letter to the editor.  Governor Pence, through his newly created education agency, the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI), is undermining the exceptional work done every day by the Department of Education.  

As you are all now aware, this is causing unnecessary conflict in education, which does nothing to serve Indiana’s children.  

Let me be clear.  The resolution that brought today’s meeting to a halt was written by CECI staff and it improperly inserted State Board of Education staff, working for the Governor’s new education agency, to take over the academic standards review process.  

Indiana law is clear.  The process of evaluating academic standards is the responsibility of the Department of Education.  After that review, the academic standards go to the Education Roundtable and finally to the State Board for adoption.  The resolution was ruled improper because it used CECI staff in a manner that violates Indiana law.  

I have said previously that I will not tolerate violations of the law, be they open door violations or improper motions.  The public demands nothing less.  

I have requested an advisory opinion from the Attorney General on the improper motion that was brought during today’s meeting.  I look forward to receiving his opinion and continuing to work with all Hoosiers to strengthen public education for our children.  

Thankfully, there were some good things that came from today’s meeting.  We took an important first step towards overhauling our broken A-F system.  I also felt like members of the Board were engaging in substantive debate.  Unfortunately, the improper resolution brought all of that to a halt.  

I gave the board multiple opportunities to fix their resolution and make it legal.  I then suggested that the improper resolution be tabled while we consult with the Attorney General.  Unfortunately, certain members of the Board refused any compromise.  

The conduct of some members and the Governor’s CECI staff made it impossible for us to move forward with our business.  Because of this, I was left with no choice but to adjourn the meeting. 

Earlier, Ritz penned an op-ed outlining her problems with Pence and his administration regarding the Department of Education. Pence responded with his own op-ed:

Indiana’s students and schools have made great progress in recent years. According to the latest scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Indiana is improving at the second-fastest rate of any state in the country. We owe this progress to the hard work of our students, teachers, and the parents and school reformers everywhere who have insisted that we hold ourselves to high standards.

To continue this momentum, in the last legislative session we increased funding for schools, created new performance funding for teachers who get results in the classroom, and extended high-quality school options to more children.

I am especially proud that Indiana is taking the lead in making career and vocational education a priority in every high school in our state. At this moment, 11 Regional Works Councils made up of educators and business leaders are working to design new career and vocational curricula that are relevant to the jobs in their communities. The legislation that established this effort and our new Career Council passed the General Assembly unanimously.

Change is never easy, but by working together, Hoosiers have been able to make meaningful progress for our kids and our schools. Yet, there is more work to be done.

In education, that starts with fresh thinking about where our kids are headed after graduation. That’s why I created the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI). CECI is an innovative approach to the education and workforce preparation pipeline that breaks down the silos that exist between K-12 schools, higher education and workforce development.

In Indiana, the Governor is responsible for higher education and workforce development, as well as for appointing the 10 members of the State Board of Education which the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Indiana chairs. Under Indiana law, the State Board of Education sets policy for our K-12 schools and oversees the implementation of those policies by the Department of Education.

CECI consolidates the education and workforce responsibilities of the Governor of Indiana in a way that removes barriers that exist for our students, workers and employers. It does so without taking any authority away from the Department of Education.

CECI has hired distinguished education and workforce experts, some of whom worked for the Superintendent and some of whom worked for her predecessor. CECI’s co-director, Claire Fiddian-Green, is a lifelong Democrat whose strong background in bipartisan education reform reflects my commitment to take politics out of the development of education policy in Indiana.

Hoosiers may be assured that I will continue to advocate for new ways to support teachers, strengthen traditional and charter public schools, and see to it that all our children have access to the kind of education that leads to success in life.

Education in Indiana is a shared responsibility. I take my responsibility to continue the progress we have made in our schools very seriously, but I do regret that the Department of Education and the Superintendent have misunderstood my sincere desire to work with them on behalf of all the children of Indiana.

Hoosiers place a high priority on our schools. They are not well served when politics prevent us from getting the job done for our kids. It’s time to put conflict behind us and work together for the benefit of our kids and their futures.

In the days ahead I will look forward to working through these issues in a manner worthy of our people with respect and civility. And I invite the Superintendent to join us in that effort.

In the meantime, every Hoosier should be encouraged to know that, despite the occasional disagreement on policy and practice, because of the efforts of our kids, our parents, our teachers, our Superintendent, our Department of Education, our General Assembly and this administration; test scores are up, graduation rates are up, and the future of education and our young people has never been brighter.