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Rift between Ritz, SBOE widens

State superintendent Glenda Ritz abruptly ended a meeting of the State Board of Education without a vote Wednesday, but board members refused to leave.  The tense situation is part of a power struggle between Ritz and the State Board for control of the state’s education agenda.

Directly at issue was a motion State Board member Brad Oliver offered during Wednesday’s meeting.  He wanted to authorize staff for Governor Mike Pence’s newly-created education agency, which oversees the State Board, to take a formal role in reviewing the state’s academic standards. 

Ritz said state law tasks her office with leading the review process.  She blocked Oliver’s motion. 

“You can’t behave this way,” responded board member Dan Elsener as several members called for a vote. 

Ritz refused and when board members wouldn’t back down, Ritz declared the meeting adjourned and walked out of the room.

Afterward, she blamed Pence’s new education office — called the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI) — for the dysfunction between her and the State Board.

“There’s a lot of conflict, and I attribute it solely, not to the members of the board actually, but to the CECI staff,” Ritz said.

Oliver says he introduced the motion because he was worried about the legislature’s July deadline for reviewing the standards.

“We’ve got to get standards done, and we’re trying to do that. But it’s hard to work collaboratively when there’s no communication,” he said. “If you ask, and you ask, and you ask and you don’t get any responses.”

Oliver says he met in-person with Department of Education staff about his motion, so he was surprised to hear Ritz objected to it.  Ritz says she told Oliver when they met on Tuesday she felt the motion was out-of-bounds. 

Pence says he believes the two sides can work out their differences.

“I regret the misunderstandings and the friction that has resulted from that on the State Board of Education,” he said. “We’ll be working through those issues in the days ahead — I’m very confident we’ll work through those issues.”

Both Ritz and State Board members have said they’ll turn to the Indiana Attorney General for help.

Kyle Stokes reports for StateImpact Indiana.

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