INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana House voted Thursday to delay by a few months a change in state law allowing for the replacement of Democratic state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz as leader of the State Board of Education.
Legislative Democrats weren't satisfied with the move and continue to maintain the proposal is politically motivated and undermines the decision of voters who elected Ritz in 2012.
The vote in the Republican-dominated House came hours after the state Senate's leader defended himself against criticism when he referred to Ritz as a librarian during a recent television program.
House members voted 69-26 to push back until July a provision that would have allowed the board to elect any member as chairman as soon as the bill was signed into law this spring.
House Majority Leader Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, said the delay is intended to give Ritz and the other board members who are appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence another chance to improve their working relationship.
"This will give every opportunity for there to be as much coalition building, as reaching out, as much bridge building as possible," McMillin said.
Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, argued that any changes to how the Board of Education operates should be given a longer review by a special committee after the end of the General Assembly's session in late April.
"It's not the kind of thing we should be trying to do during the midst of a legislative session based on personalities or folks who say they simply can't get along," she said.
The board friction under Ritz has included her ending one board meeting abruptly after ruling a member's motion out of order and walking out. She later sued the other board members, claiming they violated state public access laws when they sought to move calculation of the A-F school grades to legislative analysts.
Ritz supporters assert that the disputes have been generated by Pence's appointees who want to exert control over programs on teacher evaluation, private school vouchers and the state takeover of poorly performing schools that were championed by former Superintendent Tony Bennett, the Republican whom Ritz unseated in 2012.
Department of Education spokesman David Galvin said Ritz believed it would be less confrontational to have a broader study committee review to better clarify the roles of the superintendent and the Board of Education in making policy decisions.
"We believe that's fair to the voters instead of this drastic move in removing her as chair," he said.
The House could vote on advancing the full bill as early as Monday. The Senate is considering a separate bill under which the superintendent would no longer automatically be the Board of Education's chairman, as well as change how the other board members are appointed.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long said Thursday that he meant nothing personal against Ritz during a call-in show on Fort Wayne television station WFWA. A caller said she believed board members with less education experience than Ritz were not respecting her, to which Long responded: "Now, in all fairness, Superintendent Ritz was a librarian."
Long said he was pointing out that Ritz had no experience as a school administrator.
"I think that's been a bit of the problem with the dysfunction going on there because there is a learning curve for her," Long told reporters.
Ritz has been an educator since 1978 and was the librarian at a suburban Indianapolis elementary school until her election.
Galvin, Ritz's spokesman, declined to comment about Long's statements.
Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody called Long's librarian remark condescending.
"Librarians know what they're talking about," he said. "Just because she hasn't led a school district doesn't mean she doesn't know what it's like to administer a program or run an organization."