Who Is In Charge

A case study in Indiana State Board of Education dysfunction

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry.

How did a seemingly simple procedural change, one that Indiana State Board of Education members and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz unanimously favored, become a half-hour debate and result in a split vote on Wednesday?

For regulars at state board meetings, these sorts of puzzlingly contentious moments may be among the few board actions that seem routine.

The real issue in this case was not so much about the question before the board — a proposal to expand public comment at its meetings — but more like another round in the battle among Indiana State Board of Education members and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz over whether she had adhered to the board’s rules.

Disagreements over meeting rules have been a recurring theme for the board, usually accompanying new cracks in the fault lines of hard feelings about how Ritz has managed her role as chairwoman, and how its members have behaved, going back months.

This time, board member Andrea Neal’s suggestion to allow those who come to board meetings to speak on any topic sparked the skirmish.

Though nearly every member of the board said they liked the idea, Neal’s motion only passed 7-3.

Here’s how they got there.

Neal had recently expressed surprise and dismay to find the rules limited speakers to talking only about items on the board’s agenda. In response, Ritz named a committee to develop a recommendation.

And that’s where the trouble began.

Board member Gordon Hendry said he wished to attend the committee meeting but was upset that Ritz sent him notice too late to allow him to plan for it. The meeting was held early Wednesday, before the 9 a.m. state board meeting. Also unable to attend the meeting were state board staff members.

Hendry called for delaying the vote until a future meeting to allow more discussion and was backed by board member Brad Oliver, along with David Freitas and Dan Elsener who were participating by phone.

“The board members on the phone haven’t even seen current proposal,” Hendry complained.

Oliver then cited the board’s own rules that require public notice five days in advance.

The state board has had regular battles over its rules since 2013, and disputes with Ritz as to whether she has faithfully followed them. Those tensions culminated in an explosive November meeting that ended when Ritz abruptly declared they were adjourned.

Since then, changes to the board rules have been intended to mend fences and guard against any future clashes. New procedures that have been added since November have made it easier for board members to place items on the agenda and to make motions during board meetings.

When it comes to scheduling meetings, however, Ritz said Wednesday the 11 board members’ many work and personal commitments make it difficult for her to always find times that work for everyone.

“I have other duties than my state board duties,” she said. “I am an elected official. I am swamped in my superintendent duties.”

But Oliver and others argued that the meeting notice is a responsibility that isn’t optional. Not just the board members had this concern. After the meeting, a newspaper reporter in attendance made formal complaints to the Indiana Department of Education and the state board for failing to provide public notice of the committee meeting.

Ritz tried to guide the discussion back to Neal’s motion.

“It’s a simple matter of an up or down vote,” Ritz said, urging the board to vote.

An exasperated Neal agreed.

“This is a question of expanding public comment,” she said.

The new rules passed despite no votes from Oliver, Freitas and Elsner.

Oliver and B.J. Watts said they agreed with Hendry, but voted yes because they supported expanding the comment rules.

In the end, Hendry also voted yes, citing the same reason.

The board’s next scheduled meeting is July 9, but Ritz said she would be reaching out about dates and times for a second June meeting soon.

For other stories from a busy state board meeting Wednesday see:

 

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.