Who Is In Charge

Glenda Ritz blasts CECI for “orchestrating” state board votes

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks with reporters after Indiana's request for a waiver from some rules of the federal No Child Left Behind law was approved in 2014.

Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz told a radio host Wednesday that Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, which serves as the staff of the Indiana State Board of Education, causes conflict by steering the board members to vote in opposition to her.

Ritz was deeply critical of CECI during a 45-minute interview with Justin Oakley on the Internet radio program Just Let Me Teach, which is hosted at indianatalks.com. Oakley was a Martinsville teacher when he sought the Democratic nomination to challenge then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett in 2012. He bowed out of the race when Ritz, a teacher, librarian and union leader from Indianapolis’ Washington Township decided to run.

When Oakley asked why Ritz’s relationship with the other 10 members of the state board was so contentious, she put the blame squarely on CECI.

“Politics tends to enter the discussion at some point,” she said. “That is what it is. I work with the state board that’s appointed by the governor. CECI, I feel, is really orchestrating how they want board members to vote. That causes the conflict between myself, and what I do at the Department of Education, and the board that I serve on.”

That statement prompted a reply on Twitter from state board member Brad Oliver, who is frequently critical of Ritz:

Ritz said the state board tension is less about her relationships with the other board members than it is about her disagreements with Pence. CECI was formed by Pence last year, using an executive order to redirect money to support the state board from Ritz’s education department to the new entity. From the start, Ritz called CECI’s creation a power grab.

Ritz told Oakley the creation of CECI has been the most difficult part of her job as state superintendent.

“The board and I are supposed to do work together,” Ritz said. “Many times I’m not sure that is the feeling that is going on. We have to delay things we might be working on in the Department of Education because CECI wants to be part of that, or set up a meeting. CECI is overseeing what the department is doing. It’s not a good feeling.”

Lou Ann Baker, a CECI spokesman, said today in response that the organization’s role is purely supportive.

“We respect the superintendent and the work she and her department are doing,” Baker said. “Staff will continue to support board members as requested and further the state’s efforts on innovative career and technical education and quality pre-K programs.”

On other matters, Ritz said:

  • Indiana should pay for student textbooks. “There are schools that cannot afford to purchase textbooks upfront and wait for reimbursement,” she said. “Kids are going without textbooks.”
  • She has almost visited every county. Ritz said she travels two to three times per week and has visited 80 of Indiana’s 92 counties and about half of the state’s 290 school districts.
  • The state should increase spending on programs for students learning English as a second language. “It’s not enough and it’s not appropriate,” she said of current funding levels.
  • She believes teacher wages are falling because the state is not spending enough on education and that fewer young people want to be teachers. “There is a feeling of disrespect for our profession,” she said.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.