Ind. education board establishes 'A-F' outline before meeting becomes chaotic

INDIANAPOLIS - A meeting of Indiana's State Board of Education erupted into chaos Wednesday, with state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz abruptly announcing an adjournment and walking out.

That happened during a discussion on a proposal to shift oversight of career readiness programs to an agency controlled by Gov. Mike Pence.

Other board members appointed by the governor remained in the meeting room. A Pence administration lawyer said she would ask the attorney general's office whether they could take action without Ritz, who is the board's chairwoman.

"I have requested an advisory opinion from the Attorney General on the improper motion that was brought during today’s meeting. I look forward to receiving his opinion and continuing to work with all Hoosiers to strengthen public education for our children," Ritz said after the meeting.

Ritz said the conduct of members of the CECI staff made it impossible to move forward, so she was left with no choice but to adjourn the meeting.

"We keep having this breakdown and dysfunction and I'm very disappointed by it and I know families and teachers and students are not being well-served by this," Board of Education member Andrea Neal said.

The latest rift came shortly after the board approved a new outline for the state's A-F school grades.

The State Board of Education is signing off on a new outline for state school grades, but waiting until next year to fill in the details.

The board voted 9-1 to approve new school grade categories and broadly accept the recommendations of a bipartisan panel formed in the wake of the Tony Bennett grade-changing scandal earlier this year. But the details of how those grades are determined will be set throughout next year.

The vote was a rare moment of unity between Ritz and the other members of the board in an ongoing education war.

Ritz on Tuesday accused Pence of trying for a "complete takeover" of state education policy. But a Pence spokeswoman says he's been working in good faith with Ritz

"The resolution that brought today’s meeting to a halt, confirms what I said yesterday in a letter to the editor. Gov. Pence, through his newly created education agency, the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI), is undermining the exceptional work done every day by the Department of Education," Ritz said. "As you are all now aware, this is causing unnecessary conflict in education, which does nothing to serve Indiana’s children." 

In an open letter, Pence defended his appointing of the new council and said education in Indiana is a shared responsibility.

"I take my responsibility to continue the progress we have made in our schools very seriously. But I do regret that the Department of Education and the Superintendent have misunderstood my sincere desire to work with them on behalf of all the children of Indiana," Pence said in the letter.

The next scheduled Board of Education meeting is next month, but some board members said there's going to have to be an emergency reconciliation meeting before then.

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