Facebook Twitter

Scott Elliott

Cost still unknown for Senate bill to reign in Ritz

A bill that would remove state Superintendent Glenda Ritz as chairwoman of the Indiana State Board of Education got the seal of approval from a Senate fiscal committee today even though the measure’s cost to state taxpayers is still unknown.

Senate Bill 1 would allow the state board to elect its own leader from among its members, change the make-up of the board and allow it to hire more staff, paid for by the state’s general fund. The bill, authored by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, passed 9-4 along party lines in the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy committee. That committee heard the bill — rather than the Senate Appropriations Committee — because of the heavy workload in both committees as the legislature gets closer to the halfway-point in the session, said Skip Brown, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans. Bills will switch houses in late February.

A document from the Legislative Services Agency about the bill’s cost said that from 2012 to 2014, the state board was given about $3.5 million on average from the state each year and spent about $2.3 million of that. Brown said it’s still too early to know the cost of future state board staff at this point in the session because lawmakers are still discussing the budget.

Supporters of state Superintendent Glenda Ritz have criticized this and other bills in the legislature which they say are aimed at stripping her power.

“I am very disappointed that halfway through her term we are embarking on this legislative process that continues to deprive her of powers that the office has had,” said Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend.

Caryl Auslander, a lobbyist for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said the bill would not keep Ritz, or any future state superintendent, from being elected to lead the state board. It gives her just as much a chance as anyone else.

“I think that she has every opportunity, especially in this legislation going forward, to state her case and make the argument that she should be (chairwoman),” Auslander said.

But Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, said that was more than unlikely.

“That opportunity is not realistic,” he said.

The bill will next be heard by the full senate.