Who Is In Charge

First steps toward changing Ritz's role expected Thursday

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz at November's Indiana State Board of Education meeting.

Republican lawmakers frustrated with state Superintendent Glenda Ritz will get their first chance on Thursday to discuss a bill that would effectively remove her as the leader of the Indiana State Board of Education.

The House Education Committee will take up House Bill 1609, authored by Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, which makes good on Gov. Mike Pence’s promise last month to seek a change in state law that would allow the state board to elect a replacement for Ritz as its chair. State law currently dictates that the state superintendent, who is elected statewide, will chair the board. Ritz is the only Democrat holding statewide office in Indiana.

In a speech announcing his legislative agenda last month, Pence pitched a trade of sorts: he pledged to shut down the Center for Education and Career Innovation and said in return Ritz should give up her guarantee of being chairwoman.

While Ritz complained frequently that CECI undermined her work, describing it as effectively a shadow education department, being chairwoman is one of the few tools she has to affect decision making by the 11-member state board, which was appointed entirely by Republican governors. At Pence’s order, CECI is closing down by next month.

Ritz and her supporters have not been enthusiastic about what she would have give up if state law were changed.

Ritz and her fellow board members have frequently been at odds over procedures, as Ritz has occasionally used her role as chairwoman to block votes or prioritize the agenda as she preferred it. While she has argued that managing the board meeting is part of her job, other board members have countered that the chairwoman role should be more ceremonial. The board has taken several steps over the past year to limit Ritz’s ability to make decisions about what is placed on the agenda or when votes are taken.

Republicans have responded with several bills that would change the duties of the state superintendent or the role of the state board. A total of eight bills have been filed that would change the state board in one way or another.

In the Senate, Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, has assigned three such bills to the rules committee, where he said he would shepherd them. Long, who is Senate president, has endorsed the general approach of Senate Bill 1. It also would select the chair of the state board by a vote of its members, but Long said he is open to adding in other ideas for changing how the state board operates.

The House Education Committee meets at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday in Room 156-C at the Statehouse.

In other action on education bills today, the full House passed three bills, sending them to the Senate where they will be considered in March:

  • Transfers for school employees. House Bill 1056 requires school districts that have space to permit the children of their employees who live outside the school district to transfer into the district’s schools. The bill applies even to districts that have policies against transfers. In addition, the bill says district must accept transfers for children who attend private schools within their boundaries but live in a different school district, again if they have space available. It passed the House 95-0.
  • Teacher mentors. House Bill 1188, authored by Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, would prevent teachers from serving as mentors to student teachers unless they are rated effective by their school districts. It passed 97-0.
  • Adult charter high schools. House bill 1438 is primarily aimed at giving adult charter high school networks, like Goodwill’s Excel Centers or Christel House’s Dropout Recovery Schools, the ability to manage funds collectively rather than separate dollars into different accounts for each school. Other charter school networks were given that flexibility by the legislature last year. The bill passed 95-0.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.