by Félix Pérez
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Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a former Teacher of the Year in two districts, rankled pro-voucher Gov. Mike Pence and like-minded state legislators from the moment voters elected her the state’s leader of public schools in 2012. It turns out Pence and the anyone-but-Ritz lawmakers finally may have found a way to accomplish their long-time goal: stripping Ritz of her authority.
On Monday, the Senate Rules Committee approved a bill that fulfills Pence’s goal of removing Ritz as chairman of the state board of education. The House Education Committee approved similar legislation last week. Both bills eliminate a statutory role in place for more than 100 years.
Ritz, testifying before the House committee, said:
Voters view the election of the Superintendent to be a non-partisan position. Look at the voting statistics through history and you will find that the people vote for the person that they feel can best serve Indiana students, regardless of political party. This political power move . . . is unnecessary and will do nothing to resolve the real governance issues that this policy-making body must address.
Ritz, the lone Democratic statewide officeholder in Indiana, gained national attention in 2012 when, powered and funded by educators and parents statewide, she staged a surprise defeat of the incumbent. The Teacher of the Year in two different school districts in Indiana and a National Board Certified teacher, Ritz established a literacy program that led her school to become a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School and an Indiana 4-Star School. Ritz was president of the Washington Township Education Association for 15 years.
Despite her professional accomplishments, the state Senate’s leading Republican isn’t impressed. “In all fairness, Superintendent Ritz was a librarian, OK?” said David Long, Indiana Senate president, managing to pull off being both condescending and wrong. “She has never run a school system.”
Ritz has met with opposition from Pence’s appointees on the board since she took office, because she has stymied their efforts to impose teacher evaluations based on corporate education reform models, expand private school vouchers and implement the state takeover of poorly performing schools. The bills in the legislature are the latest attempt to limit Ritz’s ability to make decisions about what is placed on the board’s agenda or when votes are taken.
Teresa Meredith, an elementary school teacher for more than 20 years and president of the Indiana State teachers Association, said it’s time legislators end their attacks on Ritz and listen to the 1.3 million Democrats and Republicans who voted for her. “We are six years into the implementation of the education reforms yet we are still trying to decide who is in charge. The dilemma is that voters decided this two years ago and this move has the appearance of trying to override them.”