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December 10, 2013

TOM LoBIANCO: No apparent end to Pence, Ritz communication woes

Belligerents battle over key parts of education system.

Wel-come to Indi-ana’s own “Cold War,” a tit-for-tat fight over education more akin to some-thing out of Dr. Seuss’ “The Butter Battle Book” than high-brow statesmanship.

Democratic Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz surprised watchers last week when she released an internal memo, drafted by Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s education aides, that pondered ways to curb her control of the State Board of Education. Pence’s staff said he dismissed the idea in a private meeting with her last month, but Ritz’s staff said their concern is with Pence’s new education agency.

Anywhere else in state government, that conflict might be somewhat shocking. But it’s become the norm for education as Democrats control the Department of Education and Republicans control the governor’s office. And both sides of the fight have contributed to the continuing escalation.

Even before Ritz released the Pence team’s education memo last week, the education board held a terse meeting with a mediator called in from the National Association of State Boards of Education. And even before that meeting, both sides had escalated the fight: Board members accused Ritz of trying to hold a closed meeting, but Ritz said it was Pence’s idea. Before that, there was an agenda item that spurred Ritz’s walkout, and before that was Ritz’s lawsuit against the other members of the board.

And before that ... well, the list goes on.

Publicly, Pence seems to be oblivious his new Center for Education and Career Innovation remains at the core of Ritz’s problems.

“I was disappointed with the outcome of yesterday’s State Board of Education meeting. I continue to remain committed to working with all the members of the State Board of Education to resolve their differences,” Pence said Thursday when asked about the memo drafted by CECI staffers.

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