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State board renews ongoing fight over Ritz’s power

State board member Brad Oliver and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz at a meeting in December. (Scott Elliott)
State board member Brad Oliver and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz at a meeting in December. (Scott Elliott)

The months-long Indiana State Board of Education debate over how much power state Superintendent Glenda Ritz should have to guide its meetings continued Wednesday with another vote to make changes.

This time it voted 8-3 to establish a rule that allows for vote to accept or reject any board member’s interpretation of the meeting rules when a disagreement arises.

The issue is not necessarily closed, however. Board member Gordon Hendry said he was working on more proposed changes he might offer at the next meeting.

The board’s prior rules allowed Ritz to name a committee to evaluate disputes over procedures and make a recommendation. She urged the board to stick with those rules, saying the process worked well.

The board did not follow her advice.

Board member David Freitas said that process was too slow. He revived a July proposal, which has been shelved, that included the majority vote to resolve disputes.

Board member Brad Oliver saw it as a temporary fix.

“It’s a short term solution for the ongoing ambiguity,” he said. “This is what disputes arise over.”

The repeated discussion about rules pre-date last December’s explosive meeting, when Ritz abruptly adjourned and walked out rather than allow a vote on Oliver’s motion about setting academic standards.

In January, the board established new meeting rules. But by the spring, board members were again at odds after Ritz ruled motions out of order and blocked votes that board members requested in two meetings.

Board member Sarah O’Brien, a teacher in Avon, said the repeated debates about rules were frustrating.

“Missing time with my 27 students to continually discuss board procedures is not our purpose here,” she said.

After today’s meeting, Ritz left without speaking to reporters.

But there were signs the debate was not over. Some board members like an idea Hendry proposed that would allow the board to choose a parliamentarian, perhaps from the staff of Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office, to rule on disputed procedures.

“I think the parliamentarian idea will be revisited,” Oliver said after the meeting. “There is a consensus that we need to move on from this.”

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