INDIANAPOLIS | Despite a majority of Hoosiers electing her to lead their schools, the governor-appointed State Board of Education appears determined to push aside Glenda Ritz, the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction.
On Wednesday, the 10-member board voted unanimously to embark on a strategic planning process led by Daniel Elsener, a Republican board member who was close ally of Republican former State Superintendent Tony Bennett. Ritz defeated Bennett in 2012. Bennett recently resigned as Florida's school chief following allegations he improperly boosted the rating of a favored Indiana charter school.
Elsener, who is president of Indianapolis' Marian University, sprung the strategic plan measure on Ritz without public notice and during the period of board meetings usually reserved for general comments by board members.
Following a 10-minute recitation of state education achievements, Elsener proposed the board independently set a "clear direction" over the next six months so Indiana schools "can move forward faster."
Ritz, who is chairman of the board, asked for time to review Elsener's proposal since she had yet to see the plan and no other board member spoke with her about it.
Elsener demanded an immediate vote. Ritz allowed it but did not vote herself.
"The board wants a strategic plan, and we're going to move forward with it," Elsener said.
Under the plan, Ritz will be permitted to participate in strategic planning discussions, but the process of setting the state's future education goals will be directed by Elsener and the board.
The decision is the latest in a string of moves led by Republican Gov. Mike Pence and the Republican-controlled General Assembly designed to limit Ritz's authority and thwart her priorities.
Last month, without consulting Ritz, Pence established the Center for Education and Career Innovation, a new state agency that among other duties will give the State Board of Education funding and staff separate from the Indiana Department of Education.
Ritz appeared determined to nevertheless press on with her own goals for Indiana schools, especially improved access to early childhood education.
She promised Gary's Tony Walker, the region's representative on the education board, that she'll ask lawmakers next year to require Hoosier students begin school at age six, instead of seven.