RICH JAMES: Pence's olive branch to Ritz is poisoned

2013-11-20T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Pence's olive branch to Ritz is poisonedBy Rich James nwitimes.com
November 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Just when you thought Gov. Mike Pence’s quest to take control of education couldn’t be any more blatant, he turned things up a notch.

Pence has asked the National Association of State Boards of Education to resolve a dispute between the Indiana State Board of Education and Glenda Ritz, the state superintendent of public instruction.

That’s like asking the Purdue University president to officiate a basketball game between Purdue and IU.

Pence’s call for outside help would seem to be little more than a smokescreen for what he has done to the state’s education hierarchy since taking office 10 months ago.

This isn’t rocket science. Pence is the problem.

The governor controls the Board of Education. His good buddy Daniel Elsener runs the board. Elsener also was close to former Superintendent Tony Bennett, the Republican golden boy who angered Hoosiers and lost to Ritz last year.

If Pence wants to end the feud, all he has to do is call Elsener into his office and tell him to call off the dogs.

But Pence's brief tenure as governor shows he doesn’t want to do so. Perhaps that’s a tribute to Bennett for his attack on the state’s public school teachers.

Pence created the Center for Education and Career Innovation, which is slowly usurping Ritz’s authority. The CECI wasn’t approved by the Legislature.

The Republican-controlled Board of Education two weeks ago proposed that Pence’s CECI co-direct a review of state education standards in conjunction with the Department of Education over which Ritz presides.

Elsener, a couple of months ago, mandated the Board of Education adopt a strategic plan for future education. The final decisions will be made by Elsener and the board, not Ritz, even though she is board chairwoman.

The State Board of Education last month secretly submitted a letter asking the Legislative Services Agency to compile grades rating schools. The move would take grading authority away from Ritz and the Department of Education.

Gary’s Tony Walker, one of the board members, had the audacity to defend the secret serial meeting, saying it was all legal because it was done electronically. But he was among those who signed the letter to the Legislative Services Agency. Go figure.

Pence has tried to distance himself from the Republican education coup. That’s one reason he created the CECI.

Pence sounds Pollyannaish when he talks about the Ritz/board friction.

“There’s people of goodwill in this, and whether there’s been a misunderstanding or not, we need to stay focused on our kids,” Pence said recently.

The question is whether Pence thinks the people of Indiana are dumb or naïve.

Remember, Mike, they were smart enough to dump Bennett.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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