Indiana education board could soon face membership makeover

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The State Board of Education's next meeting could be its last one before undergoing a significant membership makeover.

A bill approved by legislators last week takes away two of Republican Gov. Mike Pence's 10 current appointments to the board that's had numerous disputes with Democratic state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

Pence would still be able to appoint eight people, with the leaders of the Indiana House and Senate making one appointment each.

Ritz will remain chairwoman of the board as Republican lawmakers delayed a contentious change sought by Pence to allow the board to elect any member as its leader until 2017, after the next state superintendent's election.

The board's monthly meeting is scheduled for Thursday, with the appointment changes set to take effect June 1.

The board shake-up is unlikely to give Ritz any additional support.

Current law limits the governor to appointing no more than six members of one political party to the board, but even the Democrats whom Pence has appointed generally support his education policy positions.

The proposed makeover would limit the governor to naming five Republicans among his eight appointments, with the GOP leaders of the House and Senate also able to pick Republicans for the board.

Legislative Republicans backed off the push to allow the board leadership change this summer following months of complaints from Democrats and other Ritz supporters that ending the decades-old law designating the state superintendent the board's chairman was a political power grab.

Pence hasn't yet taken action on the bill, his spokeswoman said Monday.

The governor didn't specify last week whether he would reappoint current members to the board and said he was still reviewing details of the changes.

"I'm grateful for the efforts of the General Assembly to work through the process of compromise to make recommendations to reform the State Board of Education and, ultimately, after the next election to allow them to select their chair," Pence said.

Ritz said she doesn't plan to change her goals despite any changes to the board.

"My role as the superintendent is to support the schools in getting what they need and if it involves me doing a little fighting along the way to get that done I will do so," she said.

Lawmakers approved other measures that give the Board of Education control over development of the ISTEP exam and a new $10 million charter schools grant fund. The board membership bill also creates a vice chairman position, with that person having joint responsibility with Ritz for the panel's agenda.

Those steps follow disputes between Ritz and Pence's appointees since Ritz's 2012 election over control of programs such as teacher evaluation, private school vouchers and the state takeover of poorly performing schools.

Ritz ended one board meeting abruptly after ruling a member's motion out of order and walking out. She later sued the other members of the board, claiming they violated state public access laws when they sought to move calculation of the A-F school grades to legislative analysts.

Democrats maintain Republicans are essentially creating a second state Department of Education by giving the board more authority to hire its own staff and designating it as a second state education authority to receive some data the U.S. Department of Education.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long, however, said he believed the changes would give the board a chance to work better with Ritz.

"The board's going to start over, essentially, with fresh appointments," Long said.

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