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State Board member Cari Whicker, flanked by Dan Elsener and Brad Oliver, was recommended for reappointment by the Indiana State Teachers Association.

State Board member Cari Whicker, flanked by Dan Elsener and Brad Oliver, was recommended for reappointment by the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Scott Elliott

Ritz, state board at odds over NCLB waiver status

Indiana has less than a week to answer U.S. Department of Education concerns that it is not living up to promises it made in 2012, but the state’s education leaders still are not on the same page.

The two-year-old agreement gave the state a “waiver” freeing it from stringent sanctions of the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind Law.

But the looming June 30 deadline did not stop an sharp debate at a special meeting today between members of the Indiana State Board of Education and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. As with several past meetings, Ritz and the board again debated board procedures and questions of whether Ritz has done her job adequately.

Board members said they were dismayed that documents the state must submit to the U.S. Department of Education to show how it will convert to new college- and career-ready standards are still incomplete. Ritz, however, argued her department would meet all the necessary requirements on time.

“When in a leadership role, I think it becomes incumbent upon you to keep your board informed,” said board member Brad Oliver, arguing he didn’t receive enough information to adequately assess the department’s response to federal officials’ waiver concerns. “I’m starting to feel like there’s a lack of respect for what the board’s role is versus the department. I simply want to do the role we’re assigned, which is to deliberate, to ask questions.”

Oliver asked to add a resolution to the agenda stating that board “members and staff cannot conduct a substantive review of the waiver documentation that has been prepared to date” by Ritz’s department, calling the state education department’s work “incomplete” and complaining that it was not “submitted in a timely manner.”

“We waited until this week to receive materials,” Oliver said. “All of the pieces aren’t there. In the interest of transparency if we’re going to have a special meeting to talk about it … I need to see those materials.”

Oliver’s resolution required Ritz’s approval as chairwoman. It didn’t get it.

Ritz instead called a recess that lasted more than 20 minutes to consult with lawyers as to whether to she was obligated to add the resolution to the agenda and afterward denied the motion.

Oliver and board member Dan Elsener tried then to appeal and Ritz denied that action, too. Soon after lawyers for the Indiana Department of Education and the state board debated whether appeals were even allowed.

While Ritz said she would not accept Oliver’s resolution, she said she already planned to address all of his concerns.

“Brad, I am totally committed to this waiver,” Ritz told Oliver. “I live and breathe this waiver. … We’re getting things done as quickly as we possibly can.”

“I don’t want to be lectured to,” Oliver shot back.

Elsener complained that Ritz has not always shared everything she knew about the status of Indiana’s waiver, called the situation “disturbing.”

“If you get a notification that’s a serious matter, you notify the board,” Elsener said. “You have us in a very difficult position. It’s unacceptable in the professional world.”

Ritz was not phased.

“The report is due Monday” she said, “and it will be submitted on time.”