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Gov. Mike Pence asks national group to mediate state board dispute

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (Talk Radio News Service)

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (Talk Radio News Service)

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence sent a distress signal Friday with a call for help from a national group to intervene with the troubled Indiana State Board of Education.

Pence notified state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and members of the state board in a letter that he has asked the National Association of State Boards of Education to mediate their disagreements.

In the letter, posted online by the Lafayette Journal Courier, Pence wrote that he would offer “any and all resources” to try to resolve the board’s problems.

“I am aware that the board has had difficulties in working together, and I am writing to offer my administration’s assistance in finding a solution,” Pence wrote. “I have reached out to NASBE and they have agreed to facilitate a discussion with the Indiana State Board of Education to clarify its roles and responsibilities and reach a common understanding regarding the governance procedures.”

Ritz, however, responded by placing the blame for the discord squarely on Pence’s shoulders. The new agency he created, the Center for Education and Career Innovation, is the source of the tension, she said in a statement, not her fellow board members.

“If Gov. Pence is serious about resolving this issue, he needs to engage with Superintendent Ritz directly rather than through the media,” the statement said. “For the governor to claim that this can be resolved without his direct involvement shows that he simply has not been listening.”

Direct talks are the only to reach a resolution, Ritz’s statement said.

“The Governor and Superintendent Ritz need to speak about this matter before involving any outside parties,” the statement said.

Relations between Ritz, the only Democrat holding statewide office, and the board, all appointed by Republican governors, have steadily deteriorated since the legislature earlier this year gave Pence control of education funds for the state board that previously were part of the Indiana Department of Education’s budget. With the money, Pence created a new Center for Education and Career Innovation, with its own staff that advises the state board separately from Ritz and the education department.

Ritz has been deeply critical of that move, charging Pence has engineered a “complete education takeover” in a recent newspaper column. Pence has insisted the center’s purpose is only to better coordinate the activities of various education policy boards, including also the Education Roundtable and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

The dispute came to a head Wednesday when Ritz sparred with fellow board members over a proposal she argued gave her power to the center. She refused to allow a vote on the proposal and ended the meeting without a vote to close when other board members tried to insist on a vote.