Ritz vs. Pence

Board tension explodes as Ritz walks out on meeting (updated)

State board members Cari Whicker (right) Dan Elsner (center) and B.J. Watts (obscured) speak with CECI attorney Michelle McKeown after State Superintendent Glenda Ritz walked out of the meeting.

The Indiana State Board of Education descended into chaos Wednesday as Superintendent Glenda Ritz declared the meeting adjourned and walked out over the objections of the rest of the board.

Rife with confusion, the remaining nine board members tried to press on until an attorney and a representative from Gov. Mike Pence’s office advised them to end the meeting without further action.

“We have debates every meeting between the State Board of Education’s lawyers and the Department of Education’s lawyers,” an exasperated Ritz said just before leaving. “I’m taking this to the attorney general.”

Incredulous, board member Dan Elsener, who serves as secretary, tried to step in and continue the meeting.

“This is bad governance, bad leadership and it’s inappropriate,” Elsener said.

Debate throughout the three-hour meeting repeatedly came back to questions of control — who writes the official minutes, who sets the agenda, who gets to speak during discussion and which staff members get to have input into the board’s decisions. On Tuesday, Ritz authored a newspaper guest column sharply criticizing Pence’s push into education policy making as an “education takeover.”

Tension between Ritz and Pence — and his supporters, Ritz’s fellow board members — has built since the legislature earlier this year gave the governor control of some state education funds in the state budget. Pence then used the funds to launch a new Center for Education and Career Innovation, which has hired a staff to advise the state board separately from Ritz and the Indiana Department of Education.

Creating the center yanked what Ritz contends is a crucial piece of control of the state’s education agenda away from her. Previously, the state board relied on the staff of the superintendent-led Education Department for data, legal advice and other information.

The fight for control was evident at a meeting last week when opposing lawyers — one for Ritz and another for the board — stood side-by-side and offered competing interpretations of state law. That time, the dispute was over the same issue the board was supposed to tackle today: the issuing of A to F school grades.

With a potentially controversial A to F plan already passed earlier in the meeting, it was a procedural question that led the board into discord this time.

At today’s meeting, frustration from all sides exploded over a seemingly pedestrian request from board member Brad Oliver, a college professor, to more deeply involve colleges in the standards setting process. Indiana is currently reexamining its 2010 decision to follow Common Core national standards.

Ritz objected to the language of the resolution Oliver proposed, which mentioned the governor’s new center. “This resolution says the [CECI] staff is to coordinate the board’s responsibilities and activities, to do all of the things the department has a responsibility to do,” she said. “There is a reason for the check and balance that we have regarding standards.”

When Oliver and others asked Ritz to put his motion to a vote, she refused. “I deem it improper,” Ritz declared. “The motion, as its written, invokes CECI staff being involved in overseeing the entire standard review question.”

Ritz said she would delay any further action on Oliver’s motion until she could obtain a ruling from Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office as to whether the board would violate state law by passing the motion. Zoeller declined comment Wednesday.

“Truly, an improper motion means the motion itself interferes with statutory obligations,” she said.

Board member Gordon Henry then “called the question,” trying to force a vote.

“You are not the attorney general,” board member David Freitas told Ritz. “We are a public entity. We have the right to vote. No chair can stop us.”

With that, Ritz declared the meeting adjourned, stood from her seat and left. Soon after, the online broadcast of the meeting was ended and workers began removing broadcasting equipment over board members’ objections. Board members continued their discussion even as equipment was being carried out of the room.

After briefly continuing discussion with a CECI lawyer, Elsener suggested a recess. When they returned, Claire Fiddian-Green, Pence’s education adviser who oversees CECI, cautioned the board not to try to approve Oliver’s motion until she could reach Zoeller’s office for advice. Oliver withdrew the motion.

Fiddian-Green told board members there was “ample precedent” to continue the meeting with Elsner as a substitute for Ritz serving as chair. She also noted future state board meetings could be called without Ritz’s approval by any three board members. But at Elsener’s request, the board instead adjourned a second time.

The next meeting board is scheduled for Dec. 4, but Fiddian-Green said either Ritz or other board members could call a special meeting sooner. Meanwhile, both sides have already asked Zoeller to rule on whether Oliver’s motion was permissible and whether Ritz had the power to declare it improper.

Debate throughout the three-hour meeting repeatedly came back to questions of control — who writes the official minutes, who sets the agenda, who gets to speak during discussion and which staff members get to have input into the board’s decisions. On Tuesday, Ritz authored a newspaper guest column sharply criticizing Pence’s push into education policy making as an “education takeover.”

In a press conference later Wednesday, Ritz said CECI staff is making it impossible for the state board to get things done.

“Let me be clear,” Ritz said. “The resolution that brought today’s meeting to a halt was written by CECI staff and it improperly inserted state board of education staff, working for the Governor’s new education agency, to take over the academic standards review process. The resolution was ruled improper because it used CECI staff in a manner that violates Indiana law.”

Speaking to reporters a short time later, Pence said he was confident “misunderstandings” between Ritz and the state board could be resolved if Indiana remains committed to recent accountability policies that he said helped raise test scores.

“I respect the role that the department of education and the superintendent play in education and will continue to respect that role,” he said. “We’re going to continue to work in a way that is respectful and civil but determined to advance the kind of progress we’ve been making.”

Pence authored his own op-ed published Wednesday, which aimed to cited evidence that educational achievement was improving in the state, in response to Ritz’s from Monday.

In her final comments before the meeting ended, board member Andrea Neal asked if there was some way for the board to gather for a retreat or meet with a mediator.

“This dysfunction is evident for everyone to see,” she said. “The breakdown of trust is serious. We need some kind of reconciliation process to move forward with the chair.”

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.