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Infighting Leads To More Questions About Ritz's Authority

courtesy photo

Kindergarten teacher Twyla Flint is worried.

"We’ve been hearing about the discourse, the difficulties that they’ve been having through, you know, television and news reports over the last several months," she says.

Flint could be describing Congress. But she’s actually talking about a more local group: Indiana’s State Board of Education.

The group has a lot of influence over what happens in her classroom so Flint went to watch the Board meeting last Wednesday like it was some kind of traveling sideshow.

But, in her defense, it was pretty dramatic. Sitting only feet away from one another, Superintendent Glenda Ritz and board member Dan Elsener continually sparred for control of the floor.

“Dan…Dan…You just went on a long tirade, I just want to say a couple of things," Ritz interjected.

Elsener snapped back: "I’m aware what I did, and you may have your say here in a moment, because we haven’t gotten to the appeal…So we’re going to get to speak, or is that overruled?”

Flint says although it can be interesting to see the interplay between the members, she really just wishes they could get to work.  

"Personally, I just want to teach, I just want to teach my children. That’s one of the main things all of the bickering takes away from, just us wanting to educate the children," Flint says.

Ritz, a Democrat, chairs the board, which is comprised of members all appointed by either current Governor Mike Pence or his predecessor Mitch Daniels – both Republicans.   The two sides have struggled to get along since Ritz was elected.

Political undercurrents play a big part in the latest friction, stemming from questions about power: who has it, how much, and under what circumstances.

"I think a lot of the airwaves is getting somewhat polluted with the contention between the two, and that’s not the focus and that’s not where it needs to be," says Seria Walton, a middle school math teacher at Andrew Academy in Indianapolis. She’s concerned she and her colleagues don’t know what direction to go on the new state academic standards Indiana created in April.

The Department of Education just released curriculum guides for those standards last month. And that new test teachers will have to use? The DOE still hasn’t decided exactly what that will look like.

The clock is ticking as teachers only have a few more weeks before school starts again in August.

Even some board members say enough is enough.  Sarah O’Brien says it’s time to get back to business.

"At the end of the day, we’re all working towards one big goal," O'Brien says. "So, it is my hope that while there might be conflicting personalities, that we can all find a way to work through that and actually get those things done that need to be in place to improve education across the state."

As far as the actual rulings that came out of Wednesday’s meeting- a resolution to involve the board more in future decisions around the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver passed. Details on exactly how the board will be involved aren’t clear.  

The board also moved to create a subcommittee that will take a closer look at board rules and procedures. Superintendent Ritz will appoint the members of that committee prior to the board’s next meeting in August.

Topics that didn’t get much play -- to the dismay of many teachers -- the standards and the tests they’ll be using next year.