INDIANAPOLIS - Just one day after a dramatic ending to a board of education meeting, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz joined RTV6 in an exclusive one-on-one interview. She’s opening up about what led to what some are calling a walkout -- and the conflicts she feels she’s come up against.
In Sunday’s edition of “Indianapolis This Week,” RTV6’s Rafael Sanchez sat down with Superintendent Ritz to discuss all the challenges she’s faced in her first year in her position. Watch the video attached to this story to see the interview.
On Wednesday, Ritz adjourned the meeting and left after claiming board members were trying to vote on an illegal motion.
In her sit-down with Sanchez, Ritz made it clear she believed the board members weren’t entirely to blame for the conflict. Ritz said she feels the conflict lies with the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI).
“When it was proposed that the CECI staff actually oversee that entire process, that’s not according to law,” Ritz said. “I will not operate in a manner in which we’re breaking law. I will not do it.”
Ritz said the board was proposing that CECI should oversee the state-education standards process, which she bristled at because it’s not according to law.
“So, I won’t operate in that kind of atmosphere," Ritz said. "So, yes, I’m very firm about that. I’m a person who really wants things to happen like they should, and I don’t shy away from that.”
Gov. Mike Pence suggested Friday the National Association of State Boards of Education serve as a mediator for Ritz and state board members, saying his administration is prepared to provide "any and all resources and assistance needed" to coordinate the process.
Ritz's office fired back Friday with a press release saying Pence needs to "engage with Superintendent Ritz directly, rather than through the media."
"For the governor to claim that this can be resolved without his direct involvement shows that he simply has not been listening," the statement said.
Read the entire interview’s transcript below:
Rafael Sanchez (RS): Did you walk out (of the board meeting on Wednesday)?
Glenda Ritz (GR): No. I adjourned the meeting, and I also had other obligations after the meeting, but after the adjournment of the meeting, typically, you know, you leave. So, that’s what I did.
RS: Any regrets about the way you adjourned the meeting?
GR: No, there (are) no regrets about me adjourning the meeting. The members of the board -- several members of the board -- were not allowing the agenda to continue, and so I didn’t have any choice, at some point, other than to adjourn the meeting because I couldn’t progress the agenda. I asked several times to go on to the next item, and to the next item, and to the next item. I also spent quite a bit of time trying to mitigate the circumstance that we were involved in to begin with, with the improper motion. When I ruled, I tried to have dialogue prior to that talking about why it was going to be an improper motion. I had dialogue the day before with the actual maker of the motion letting him know that it was an improper motion. By the way, an improper motion is one that actually violates statute. So I tried to table it. I didn’t get a second, so I did rule it improper, and asked to continue on, and continue on with the agenda. So, I felt I had no choice since it wasn’t being allowed to continue the agenda but to adjourn.
RS: Do you feel under siege? Do you feel that every time you propose something, or that you make a statement, or that you want to make a rule, that someone is saying “No, she’s the Democrat. We’re not going to allow her to do anything she wants to do. We’re just going to stop her.” It just seems to me that you feel -- are you under siege, or do you feel under siege? And, if you are, who is the enemy here?
GR: The only -- the only conflict that I feel is going on is the conflict with the new agency that the governor has created, the Center for Education and Career Innovation. Since the creation of that agency, the staff who are working with the State Board of Education underneath that agency spend their time undermining what’s going on and happening over here at the Department of Education. Literally. And it’s interfering with what’s happening at the board. The board members, you know, look to their CECI staff to give them guidance on how they’re to vote, how they’re to operate, how it’s supposed to be. The wording of a resolution. It’s the CECI staff, since that agency has been formed, I feel that that’s where the conflict lies. I don’t personally have conflict with the board members because, quite frankly, they’re all qualified individuals with good experience in education. And we have made decisions every single board meeting that I feel are good decision.
RS: But you also have not been shy if you believe that the rules are being broken. I mean, you proposed a lawsuit, you’ve gone after these very board members if you believe something is wrong.
GR: I will not operate in a manner in which we’re breaking law. I will not do it. When I felt Open Door was totally being violated, that was beyond my belief. I was, like, “No. I cannot allow this.” Yesterday (referencing Wednesday) with the improper motion that clearly in statute gives the right to the department to review the standards. When it was proposed that the CECI staff actually oversee that entire process, that’s not according to law. So, I won’t operate in that kind of atmosphere. So, yes, I’m very firm about that. I’m a person who really wants things to happen like they should, and I don’t shy away from that.
RS: The governor issued a statement, saying that this was a misunderstanding, that he wants to work with you. That when it comes to education, he also went on to say it’s a shared responsibility. Do you believe that this is all a misunderstanding, and do you see this as being a shared responsibility with the governor’s office?
GR: Well, my letter to the editor used the word “takeover.”
RS: You were strong again. You were very clear.
GR: Very clear. I gave four points that is very clear about how this is happening.
RS: And you don’t back away from your point.
GR: I do not. Yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) was the same. Just one more indication where the CECI is taking over responsibility for the Department of Education, of which I have been elected to oversee, and I am not going to shy away from that. I kind of look at this whole situation: Takeover equals misunderstanding? No. It’s very clear about some things that are happening from the CECI with my agency. It feels, it looks, there’s proof that his agency is overseeing my agency, and I’m the only education agency that should be in force, working with all of the schools and making sure that policy is enacted. That’s what I was elected to do. I’m a constitutional officer.
RS: By more than one million people.
GR: Yes, a great many people, who are actually staying involved, Rafael, to be sure that we head in a direction that they voted me in to do.
RS: How do you respond to the criticism from the other side of the aisle that says you’re really getting in the way, that you don’t really want to see the letter grades right now, that you’re slowing down that process, that Glenda Ritz really didn’t want to, she was holding back the letter grades and the entire process. You’ve heard that criticism. Can you respond to that?
GR: Oh, I most definitely can respond to that. First of all, I’m a teacher, and I am very aware that in Indiana, the high stakes of this test, and getting information out, is teacher compensation, literally. Teachers are waiting on compensation, additional compensation if they’re an effective and a highly effective teacher, and it’s based in part upon those accountability grades. I have done everything in my utmost power to release these grades as soon as I can release them, but I have a process that needs to be followed, and we have to be sure that everything is complete. So we are doing that. We are releasing the grades on November 15. And I had told the board that we should be releasing them before Thanksgiving. I was going about, we were going about our business to get that done. We are releasing it on the 15th of November, then the appeals process will begin to make sure that there are no, to correct any kind of errors that the schools might see from their end, and double check everything. So, no one wants to get those grades out quicker than I do, because I know educator compensation is based on them now.
RS: 2014 Legislature. What would you like to accomplish?
GR: You know, really, I hope it’s a quiet session.
RS: You know it’s not going to be a quiet session.
GR: Oh, I know, but we have a lot of things that are going on. We’re reviewing standards. We have assessments to review. We’ve got the accountability piece. We have a lot of things that we just kind of need to get where they need to be. But, there is one huge issue that we are going, actually it’s a big initiative, and it’s early childhood. I’m hoping that early childhood legislation is going to be the top of what we talk about this time.
RS: It’s expensive.
GR: Yes, but we are one of 16 states, I believe it is, that have applied for Race to the Top with the federal government on an early childhood. I thank Governor Pence for signing that to actually apply and make that happen. We’re working with three different agencies, the health agency and the Family Services agencies, to actually coordinate services for pre-school, so I’m hoping that we’re going to hear about that, and get some really good backing to make that go. And despite that, even if we lose, we’ve got a good framework that we can talk about and move forward with. So, we’ve definitely got to get kindergarten totally established. The state of Indiana needs to get that done.