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Education board measures would curb Ritz's powers

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Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz said Wednesday she would have her lawyers review a pair of measures from the State Board of Education that would curb some of her powers as board chair.

The board voted 7-3 on one measure establishing a committee to review Ritz's ability to set the board's agenda. And board members voted 9-1 on a separate measure mandating that the Department of Education deliver regular updates to the board on the status of the state's No Child Left Behind waiver.

Board members who supported the measure argued that she was reading too much into their requests and that it was not about a power play against her.

"I don't think I see this as anything other than collaborating and trying to put our best foot forward," said Gordon Hendry, a Democratic member of the board.

It will now be up to Ritz to decide whether to appoint the special committee called for by the board. She said Wednesday that she wanted a legal review first to determine if the board acted within its powers.

The votes capped more than two hours of emotional and, at times, combative debate between Ritz and the other board members, all appointees by the state's past two Republican governors. Ritz accused Pence's education agency, the Center for Education and Career Innovation, of trying to interfere with her efforts to secure the federal waiver.

"I feel like it's an attempt to actually bring to bear and question my integrity, my honesty, my department's capacity to do the work of the waiver. Perhaps he (Pence) thinks his agency is the agency that should be doing that," Ritz said.

A CECI spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Ritz's statements Wednesday evening. But Ritz pointed out that CECI staff submitted a 28-page critique of the state's waiver that she argued "jeopardizes" the state's chances at keeping the waiver.

The U.S. Department of Education alerted the state at the end of April that it was in danger of losing its federal waiver because of problems tracking low-performing schools. At stake is control over a slice of the more than $200 million Indiana receives in federal "Title I" funds each year.

The news of the state's waiver being placed in jeopardy also re-opened old political battles between Ritz and Pence's staff and board appointees that had been dormant since last December.

The infighting has drawn criticism from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a supporter of the education overhaul pushed by former Superintendent Tony Bennett and former Gov. Mitch Daniels. Duncan said in January that the state was facing "deep dysfunction".

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

Pence called in an arbitrator from the National Association of State Boards of Education to negotiate a truce between Ritz, the board and his staff. But during a December meeting with the arbitrator, Ritz released an email discussion between Pence's staff discussing ways to strip her of power.

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