House Approves Restructured Board of Education bill, Heads to Senate

INDIANAPOLIS (WOWO): It is now up to the state Senate to decide whether a bill that would remove state Superintendent Glenda Ritz as chair of the State Board of Education goes to the governor or to a conference committee.

The House passed the bill (SB 1) 56-to-41 on Tuesday, a bill supporters say will help end the rancor between the Democratic superintendent and the board. It would end the more than 100-year-old practice of having the elected superintendent chair the State Board, instead having board members elect their own chair – the superintendent would remain a member of the board.

Right now, Indiana and Oklahoma are the only states in which part of the job of the elected superintendent is to chair the board of education. The Senate must decide whether to go along with a change made by the House that expands the board from 11 to 13 members.

The governor would retain his current 10 appointments to the board, and additional board members would be appointed by the leaders of the House and Senate. The original Senate version of the bill shrank the board to nine members and reduced the number of members appointed by the governor to four, while the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate would have had one appointment each.

Though the education board has members of both parties by law, all its current members were appointed by Republican governors, and backers of the bill say the strained relationship led to poor communication on issues such as the development of a new ISTEP.

Opponents of the bill, including Ritz, the teacher unions and a handful of Republicans who voted against it, say it appears to be Republican retribution for Ritz winning the only statewide office not held by the GOP.

The change would take effect July 1, more than a year before Ritz is up for re-election.