Who Is In Charge

Despite Ritz's pleas, committee passes bill to remove her as chair

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Glenda Ritz speaking to the Indiana House Education Committee in January.

An Indiana House committee passed a bill today that would remove the guarantee that state Superintendent Glenda Ritz must chair the Indiana State Board of Education.

House Bill 1609 passed the House Education Committee 8-3 on a party-line vote despite a direct appeal from Ritz and sometimes emotional pleas from her Democratic supporters. It is expected to be voted on by the full House as early as next week.

“This political power move of House Bill 1609 is unnecessary and will do nothing to resolve the real governance issues,” Ritz said. “I urge you to pause this session from assigning changes or any further allocation to the State Board of Education.”

The bill, authored by Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, is part of Gov. Mike Pence’s legislative agenda. It would allow the state board to elect a replacement for Ritz as its chair. State law currently dictates that the state superintendent, who is elected statewide, will chair the board. Ritz, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Indiana, pointed out the state superintendent has chaired the state board for more than 100 years.

Ritz said she agreed with House Bill 1609 supporters that the roles of state leaders in education policy should be clarified. But she proposed a summer study committee to examine the question of what changes are needed.

Her argument found little sympathy among the majority Republicans on the committee.

“We have to do something,” Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, citing the dysfunction of the state board. “To me this is a no-brainer.”

Ritz has frequently been at odds with the rest of the board over procedures, sometimes blocking votes or refusing requests to change the agenda. In a meeting in 2013, Ritz abruptly adjourned a state board meeting and walked out rather than allow a vote on an item she objected to. The board has taken several steps over the past year to limit Ritz’s ability to make decisions about what is placed on the agenda or when votes are taken.

As the conversation was wrapping up so the committee could vote, Rep, Terri Austin, D-Anderson, made a surprising suggestion: she asked McMillin to consider changing the bill to at least allow a co-chair design, with Ritz sharing the role.

“I’ve taught at all levels,” Austin said, with tears in her eyes. “I am saddened by what I see happening. The casualties in the end may cost us more than what we come away with in victory.”

A companion bill, House Bill 1486, which would give the state board, not Ritz or the Indiana Department of Education, authority over testing, standards, student data, state takeover, teacher evaluation and other functions, also passed the committee 9-4.

Other bills passed by the committee included:

  • A bill aimed at informing college students about their loan costs, House Bill 1042.
  • A bill that would require school districts to follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, House Bill 1579. The bill would require districts that don’t follow GAAP to convert by 2018.

New to Chalkbeat? Keep up with the latest education news from across Indiana here. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for daily updates on all the issues you care about.

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.