INDIANAPOLIS | House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has vowed the General Assembly will take steps to resolve what he describes as a "civil war" between the State Board of Education and Glenda Ritz, the state superintendent of public instruction.
When asked by reporters, Bosma wouldn't say much about what those steps may be. The Republican-controlled legislature convened Tuesday for its ceremonial opening session ahead of the Jan. 6 start to three months of daily meetings.
Bosma hinted that a law designating Ritz chairwoman of the state education board could be on the chopping block, but said he doubted the position of state schools chief would be made an appointed office instead of elected.
"We don't want to take any actions that appear to be unfair to anyone, but we have to have a system that works as well," Bosma said. "We're doing what we can behind the scenes to try to calm everything down and bring people together, and if we have to be out in front we'll do that, too."
The Republican-appointed State Board of Education and Ritz, a Democrat, have clashed repeatedly over policy, politics and personalities since Ritz won a surprise victory last year over Republican Tony Bennett.
In addition, Ritz claims Republican Gov. Mike Pence is working to usurp her authority using the Center for Education and Career Innovation, a state agency Pence created in August that provides staff support to the education board separate from Ritz's Department of Education.
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said there's no question the governor is throwing obstacles in Ritz's path to avoid working with the sole statewide Democratic officeholder.
"They've just simply set up sort of an alternate-universe Department of Education," Pelath said. "They've hired a bunch of people that they're paying very big salaries to, simply so they could sidestep somebody that the people elected. I don't think that's conservative at all."
CECI head Claire Fiddian-Green, Pence's special assistant for education innovation, is paid $120,000 a year. That's nearly $9,000 more than Pence makes and $30,000 more than Ritz's salary. Altogether, six of the 16 CECI staffers earn more than $100,000 a year, according to the state auditor.
Pelath said the point of Republicans ginning up "a political firestorm" is to justify eventually forcing Ritz out of office and putting total control of education in Pence's hands.
"They're creating this political soap opera so they can just go, 'Oh look how political this is,' " Pelath said. "Then they'll use that as a reason to try to strip her of her powers, and maybe even eliminate the office one day altogether, and just give all the power to the governor. You can see it happening."