Ritz vs. Pence

New picks by Pence, legislators reshape the Indiana State Board of Education

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
The Indiana State Board of Education will hold its March meeting Wednesday.

The Indiana State Board of Education will look very different when it meets next week.

After a contentious tug-of-war between State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and a board that has been mostly critical of her work the past two years, the reshuffle could change the nature of the conversation about education in Indiana. The new board meets next Wednesday at Purdue University.

Five new board members were appointed today, or half of the 10 appointees on the board. The five who were reappointed by Gov. Mike Pence were Sarah O’Brien, David Freitas, Cari Whicker, B.J. Watts and Gordon Hendry.

Dan Elsener, Brad Oliver, Tony Walker and Troy Albert were not reappointed to the board. Ritz holds the 11th seat on the board.

The new board members are:


Steve Yager, a retired superintendent from Southwest Allen County Schools near Fort Wayne. Yager co-chaired last year’s statewide panel that revised the rules for A-to-F school grades. He was appointed by Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, the president of the Indiana Senate.




Byron Ernest, the head of schools for the online charter school network Hoosier Academies. Ernest was Indiana Teacher of the Year in 2010 while at Lebanon High School. He then worked for Charter Schools USA as the principal of Manual High School when the company took over managing the school from Indianapolis Public Schools as part of a state takeover. He was appointed by Rep. Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, the speaker of the Indiana House.



Eddie Melton, community relations manager at Northern Indiana Public Service Company, a gas and electric company. He formerly was vice president of the Gary Chamber of Commerce and once served as executive director of an organization that offers tutoring and mentoring. He was appointed by Pence and previously had been tapped by Pence to serve on the Indiana Commission of the Social Status of Black Males and the Region 1 Work Council. Melton was appointed by Pence.


Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, an assistant superintendent in Warren Township. She formerly worked in the Indiana Department of Education and was the first head of state takeover efforts under then-Superintendent Tony Bennett. She was appointed by Pence.




Vince Bertram, the CEO of Project Lead The Way. His organization is a non-profit that helps schools improve instruction in science, technology, engineering and math. The group moved to Indianapolis after 14 years in upstate New York in 2011. Bertram is the former superintendent in Evansville and also has written a book about STEM education. He was appointed by Pence.



New board members, new dynamic?

The changes remove from the board two of Ritz’s sharpest and most consistent critics in Elsener and Oliver. But others who are returning have also clashed with her at times, notably O’Brien, Freitas and Hendry.

So it may be too early to judge whether Ritz or her remaining board critics gained more from the overhaul.

“I don’t think any of this can be considered a win for anybody,” Hendry said. “There’s going to be a bit of a changing of the guard.”

At least one former board member said he wasn’t terribly sorry to leave the group behind. Tony Walker, a Gary attorney who was not reappointed, said he was “indifferent” when asked if he wanted to stay on the board.

“I was more than willing to call it quits,” Walker said. “Every time you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. I don’t see these issues developing a consensus anytime soon. It was a bag of wishes and dreams.”

But Hendry said he believed the board already had moved past some of its most difficult times, resolving hard issues such as disagreements over the board’s own rules and Ritz’s powers as chairwoman, for example.

“My hope is with some new members there will be different points of view brought to the table and we can kind of hit the reset button and try to get beyond some of these issues that have bogged us down in the past,” he said.

Elsener, who said he asked not to be reappointed after nearly a decade on the board, advised the new board members to set specific goals and objectives and hold Ritz and the education department accountable for achieving them.

He said the board should continue to focus on turning around failing schools, especially in poor communities.

“There’s a matter of social and economic justice when schools aren’t working well,” he said. “We need to have outstanding leadership to push forward and make the tough decisions. I’m very proud of all the work we got done, especially during the Tony Bennett years when we had strong leadership.”

Neal, who also was not reappointed, said she expects the new people will bring noticeable change to the board.

“It’s my sense that the new board combined with the new appointments by the House speaker and the Senate president will be less of a rubber stamp,” Neal said. “And I think that’s a great thing. I hope they all exercise independent judgement on every issue that goes before them.”

A rare moment of big changes

The appointment or reappointment of 10 state board members at once is unusual and resulted from changes to the just-passed Senate Bill 1, which set a June 1 deadline for new appointments. Normally, the board members are named in smaller sets of appointments every two years.

The bill was pushed by Pence and legislative leaders as a way to allow the board to choose someone other than Ritz as chair if it wished. The final version removed the guarantee in state law that the superintendent lead the board, but that change doesn’t happen until 2017.

Changes to Pence’s appointment powers, which he initially opposed but ultimately accepted, were included to the bill. He now appoints eight board members, while Bosma and Long each get one appointment. Previously Pence appointed the 10 board members besides the superintendent.

An overhauled state board will try to move past two contentious years of intense debate and pointed criticism.

State board members have frequently derided Ritz’s leadership of the board and the Indiana Department of Education, arguing that she tried to block efforts to hold schools to high standards and failed at her basic duties, like managing the creation of a new ISTEP test.

But Ritz has directed repeated complaints at Pence, arguing that he has sought to undermine her work through his appointments on the board and the staff they hired. Pence fired back dramatically in February when he blamed Ritz for building an ISTEP test he said was too long and then backed a legislative effort that made changes to cut the exam time by three hours.

What comes next?

Some of the new board members say they are eager to begin working with their colleagues, including Ritz, with an eye toward reducing the discord.

“I would not have accepted this opportunity if I wasn’t interest in working with Superintendent Ritz,” Bertram said. “This is going to require a great deal of collaboration. I look forward to sitting down and finding ways to work together to realize our state’s potential.”

Melton said board members should be able to disagree constructively if they have respect for one another.

“We’re talking about really understanding how we arrived at various decisions, not approaching it in a argumentative or opposing way,” Melton said. “How can we have good civil conversations and debate where we all can vote and make a decision for the children at the end of the day?”

All said they were eager to begin work.

“I like to run toward challenges as opposed to away from them,” Ernest said. “I think it’s so important that we establish sound policy and procedures and practices for all schools in Indiana, all students, all families.”

Several of the newcomers hesitated to weigh in on issues that have divided the board — like the future of ISTEP or whether Ritz’s leadership has improved education in Indiana — in hopes of a fresh start.

Kwiatkowski, for example, said she has not closely followed state board discussions since she attended her last meeting as an education department employee in 2011. From her post in Warren Township, the outcome for schools since then has been hard to judge, she said.

“We’ve had a lot of changes over the last couple of years,” she said. “We’ve had new standards and new assessments. We’ve had different issues with funding. All of those are complex issues for districts. I don’t think it would be fair for me to say are we better or not better.”

Yager said politics will be far from his mind as a state board member.

“I’m about as apolitical as you can possibly get,” Yager said. “So I guess my response to that is if I ever make a political decision as a board member, I’m in the wrong seat. I need to be making decisions that are tied to direct classroom improvement.”

Ritz vs. Pence

Glenda Ritz drops out of governor's race

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announcing her ill-fated bid for governor last June. She pulled out of the race 10 weeks later.

Glenda Ritz announced today that her run for Indiana governor is over.

When Ritz boldly announced a run for governor on June 4, she said only by unseating Gov. Mike Pence could she give schools the support they need.

A little more than two months later, a humbled Ritz closed down her mistake-prone and financially wobbly campaign, saying she would instead focus on education and support services for kids by seeking re-election to her current job.

She remained critical of Pence even while bowing out.

“Now is not the right time for me to run for governor,” Ritz said in a statement. “The people of Indiana know we need a new governor, a governor that supports public education that directly affects their abilities for better jobs and stronger communities. As superintendent, I will continue to advocate for what is right to educate our children to improve our economy for all Hoosiers.”

In two months as a candidate, Ritz showed none of the political shrewdness and innovation that propelled her to a stunning victory over then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett in 2012.

Ritz attracted a wide following of educators and small donors, along with union dollars, against Bennett, generating strong enthusiasm through smart social media and word-of-mouth strategies.

But this time her events were less energetic and her campaign was less focused.

Last month, Ritz admitted mistakes and promised to re-file campaign finance reports that appeared to show her campaign violated state law by accepting contributions during the legislative session when lawmakers were crafting the budget, which is illegal.

Reporters sometimes ran into disconnected phone lines or an old voicemail greeting trying to reach the campaign, which never hired a permanent spokesman.

Still, an optimistic Ritz told the Indianapolis Star just last week her campaign was just getting organized. She envisioned strong fundraising ahead and a quality campaign.

While Ritz stayed close in early polling, she trailed far behind Pence and Democratic front runner John Gregg when it came to raising money. Ritz reported raising just over $30,500 so far this year in July, while Gregg had raised $1.76 million and Pence $1.63 million.

Given those troubles, some were not surprised Ritz pulled out.

“I think it was probably a good decision,” said David Dresslar, a former superintendent and director of a University of Indianapolis education leadership center who is now working as a consultant. “I think the reality of fundraising and getting an early start and the war chest John Gregg has developed has really given her an uphill climb.”

The failed campaign could potentially help Ritz by allowing her to focus on her re-election campaign. She is likely to be a formidable candidate to keep her job despite sometimes bitter Republican opposition.

But such a quick exit also diminishes some of the arguments Ritz has made for why Hoosiers should trust her more on education policy than Pence.

For instance, her supporters were fond of pointing out Ritz got more votes defeating Bennett in 2012 than Pence did in his victory over Gregg, suggesting she was more popular than Pence.

Ritz also regularly suggested her disputes with members of the Indiana State Board of Education were really battles between her and Pence. But far from setting the stage for a head-to-head run against Pence in 2016, her campaign turned out to be an early washout.

Dresslar said he doesn’t think Ritz’s ill-fated try for governor will be bad for her or diminish the stature of education issues in 2016.

“I don’t think that this exploration necessarily hurts her,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can fault her for considering this. Education will continue to be a hot-button issue.”

Ritz and Pence became bitter rivals within months of taking office. Pence launched the Center for Education and Career Innovation to support the appointed state board members, and Ritz was deeply critical of it, saying the center undermined her work.

Earlier this year, Pence dissolved CECI but at the same time pushed for a bill to remove the guarantee in state law that Ritz chair the state board. The bill passed, but the change doesn’t go into effect until after the 2016 election.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said she still supports Ritz and was not disillusioned by her decision. The union was the largest contributor to her 2012 campaign.

“I would like to know a little bit more about the decision, but I think I know her well enough to know that she’s probably considered what the outcome could be in both the governor’s race and the superintendent’s race,” Meredith said. “I’m wondering what’s going on with (the superintendent’s) race in particular, if that’s had anything to do with her deciding to withdraw or if she’s just wanting to stay focused on what she’s doing.”

Perhaps it’s a case of unfinished business, Meredith said. There are policies in the works, especially around teacher training and pay, that are just getting off the ground, she said.

Either way, Meredith was confident ISTA teachers would stand behind her.

“Our members love her because she is a champion for the children they serve,” she said. “If this is what she thinks she needs to do to make sure they are served well, then they will support that.”

The fact that Ritz is an educator with a long track record of supporting teachers is why teachers like Carlota Holder, who works with students learning English as a new language at Creston Middle School in Warren Township, believe in her, Holder said.

“I trust her,” Holder said. “She was a teacher. She knows what she’s talking about. Where (Pence has) made these poor choices, and we’re now seeing the effects. If he gets re-elected, I don’t know if there’s really any hope for teachers.”

Holder said she was surprised when she heard from her husband after she left work today that the Ritz campaign for governor was shutting down. She’s disappointed Ritz dropped out.

Ritz could have done more to help kids as governor, Holder said, especially when it came to issues like expanding state support of preschool and fighting poverty, than she can as state superintendent.

“I wholeheartedly believe that because she got it the last time that if she ran again (for state superintendent), she’d win,” Holder said “But then I just wonder, are we going to deal with the same drama that we’ve dealt with already this year? I don’t think any of us want that.”


Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz announced today she is no longer running for governor, saying she needed to focus instead on her work in education.

The announcement was first reported by WTHR. Ritz will seek re-election as state superintendent, according to a statement by the Indiana Democratic Party.

She recently came under fire after allegations surfaced that she accepted money from donors during this year’s legislative session, a violation of campaign finance law because it was a budget year.

Read Ritz’s statement here:

Over a million schoolchildren are starting school. They begin this school year with the hope and optimism that education can make a difference in their lives. The best use of my time and talents will be to serve our children, their families and the taxpayers of Indiana as superintendent of public instruction. I must continue to be 110 percent engaged in supporting public education.

Now is not the right time for me to run for governor. Under my leadership I have brought the discussion of public education into the public discourse and have started to fundamentally change how we support schools. My work is not finished, and my passion is stronger than ever. I am resolutely dedicated to educators students and families from pre-K to graduation.

Recent stories in the news media have pointed out that we do indeed have major issues that impact our families. Two of them particularly concern me — the rising childhood poverty rate and a major decrease in the numbers of college-level students pursuing majors that will lead to teaching. Both of these issues require a re-doubling of my commitment to serve as superintendent and to provide the needed wraparound services to our children and to address the barriers that have been put in place to attract and retain teachers.

The people of Indiana know we need a new governor, a governor that supports public education that directly affects their abilities for better jobs and stronger communities. As superintendent, I will continue to advocate for what is right to educate our children to improve our economy for all Hoosiers. With the help of all of you, we will keep education the focal point of the gubernatorial race.

Many of my supporters will be disappointed with my decision, but I know that we share a vision for education. My heartfelt thanks goes out to those who have so passionately supported my campaign for governor.

With my personal commitment to doing what is needed to prepare this and future generations for the challenges of tomorrow, I will enthusiastically seek re-election as your superintendent of public instruction.


5 ways Glenda Ritz's run for governor will change education and politics

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz at a meeting of the Indiana State Board of Education earlier this month.

Just when it looked like Indiana’s fierce education debates could simmer down, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s run for governor could turn up the flame.

On June 1, a retooled Indiana State Board of Education met for the first time, with pledges all around to focus on the needs of students and move past political sniping.

But two days later, Ritz’s announcement included political broadsides to Gov. Mike Pence, criticizing his education policies as detrimental to the state’s economy.

As Ritz now steps beyond a focus just on schools, here are five ways her run for governor will change the game for Indiana’s ongoing conversation about education.

Education is likely to be a central issue in the 2016 election.

Schools were only a small part of the debate in the 2012 race for governor between Pence and his Democratic opponent, John Gregg. In fact, education really was not a big deal at all that year until Ritz’s shocking defeat of Tony Bennett on Election Day. Ritz and the race for state superintendent were largely ignored by the media, and even Bennett dismissed her call for a series of debates. Ritz and Bennett instead held one joint appearance.

As long as Ritz remains in the 2016 governor’s race, education will be a central theme this time. She will certainly force a conversation about education in the primary election, as she is one of the state’s few high-profile Democrats. Ritz so far has trained her fire on Pence, rather than on her Democratic opponents, Gregg and state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, with Pence’s management of education policy as her primary target.

There could be hotly contested primary elections next May

As it stands now, Indiana is looking at a three-way race for the Democratic nomination to challenge Pence for the next 11 months. All three candidates have different strengths and claims for why they should be nominated. Ritz is the state’s best-known Democrat currently in office and has had some success in political wars with Pence. Gregg lost a surprisingly close race with Pence last time and could do better this time given Pence’s recent decline in popularity and political problems. Some Democrats believe Tallian, who is less well-known, might be the strongest match for the political views of core Democratic voters.

On the Republican side, Pence could also face a primary race. Fort Wayne car dealer Bob Thomas has toyed with running, Former Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle also has suggested he might help find a challenger for Pence in frustration with the governor’s support of a religious freedom bill that prompted a backlash against the state. This is unusual. Primary challenges to sitting governors are exceedingly rare in Indiana.

So it appears there could be one, or possibly even two, big primary election votes to select the party standard-bearers for the 2016 governor’s race.

The race for state superintendent could also get interesting

If she is not picked by voters to be the Democratic nominee for governor in May of 2016, Ritz has said she likely would seek renomination at the party convention to run again for state superintendent. Ritz said she was looking for a back-up candidate who could run for her current job if Democratic voters choose her to take on Pence.

But that could get tricky.

It might be difficult, first of all, to get a strong candidate willing essentially to be on standby. A run for statewide office is a difficult challenge that requires a strong commitment. Also, Democrats will likely not want to lose the only statewide office they control.

Meanwhile, Ritz’s run for governor provides an opening for a Republican challenger, and it might create an incentive for any Republican considering a run to get into the race early. With Ritz focused on the governor’s race, there will be an opportunity for a Republican opponent to push a different vision for the office and emphasize that her attention is divided between the job she was elected for and the one she hopes to have next.

Pence also could be helped if an ally were to declare early a run for state superintendent. Together they could coordinate critiques of her work as superintendent.

Politics could heat up again at the Indiana State Board of Education

Changes in state law this year prompted the 10 other board members besides Ritz to be reappointed, and about half the appointees are new faces. There has been much optimism that an overhauled board could move past infighting, which some have characterized as at least partly driven by politics.

But eight of the 11 board members are still Pence’s appointees. Ritz’s run for governor will ensure that she will be publicly critical of Pence and speak regularly about her policy differences with him. The new board is still more aligned with Pence on policy questions, so that could raise new tensions.

Hoosiers will finally get to decide who they like better: Ritz or Pence

Since her election in 2012, Ritz supporters have frequently cited the fact that the 1.3 million votes she received were more than Pence earned in the governor’s race that year, implying that she is, in fact, more popular than he is.

But there’s been much dispute over the meaning of Ritz’s 2012 win. Was it more an affirmation of voter affection for Ritz, then a political unknown, or a rejection of sometimes blunt-speaking Bennett, whose rhetoric angered many educators. Some of the tension between Pence and Ritz comes from the fact that both of their camps interpreted the 2012 results differently.

In 2016, Ritz will test the theory that she has more support and public trust than Pence. If she does, and she can convince voters they can also trust her on issues beyond education, she could be the next governor. If Pence beats her in the general election, he’ll have a strong argument that most Hoosiers prefer him and his approach. If Ritz fails to secure the Democratic nomination, Pence will be able to make the case that even Democrats aren’t ready to put their full faith in Ritz.