Senate Committee Moves Education Board Revamp Bill
February 11, 2015 — TheStatehouseFile.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Senate is pushing forward with its own legislation to overhaul the State Board of Education and demote state Superintendent Glenda Ritz as its chair, even as Democrats decry the move as political.
The Republican-controlled Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee passed Senate Bill 1 along party lines, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.
Similar legislation passed the Indiana House on Monday, although the Senate bill does more to change the appointments to the board.
The Senate bill’s author, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said the bill is necessary to bring order back to an education board he repeatedly called “dysfunctional.”
“Our responsibility is to mix this up until we find a combination that works,” Holdman said.
But Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, criticized the use of the word dysfunctional and said voters elected Ritz, the first Democrat to hold the office in three decades, because they were seeking change.
Broden said that’s bound to cause disputes. Political fights are inevitable, he said, “when issues are big and the stakes are high and people have competing philosophies.” But he said that’s democracy.
“Isn’t democracy sometimes by itself… by it’s nature sometimes messy, sometimes messy in public?” he asked.
Broden challenged Holden about whether he would be offering the bill this year if Republican Tony Bennett, whom Ritz ousted in the 2012 election, were still holding the office.
But Holden said Ritz’s refusal to communicate and collaborate with board members has forced lawmakers to act now. He pointed to her previous lawsuit against her fellow board members – after they took action without her knowledge – and her decision to abruptly adjourn one state board meeting and leave while other members were still debating issues as evidence that changes are needed.
But Holden said there is “absolutely nothing personal in this whatsoever. It’s a matter of good governance.”
Under current law, the governor appoints 10 individuals to the State Board of Education and the elected state superintendent serves as its chair and a voting member. The superintendent, who serves a four-year term and can seek reelection, also oversees the Department of Education, which administers education policy set by the General Assembly and the board.
SB 1 reduces the board to nine members – with four appointed by the governor, four appointed by legislative leaders and the superintendent serving as a voting member. That group would then elect their own chair each year.
The legislation also calls for bipartisan membership, with Republican and Democratic appointments. And the bill requires that some board members have an education background.
But Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said additional tweaks could be necessary before the bill becomes law. He asked Holden to consider future amendments that would specify that public school teachers serve on the board. And he suggested that lawmakers think hard about what will be good for education governance in the short-term but also in the long term.