Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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November 16, 2013

Pence seeks national group's help in ed fight

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican Gov. Mike Pence asked a national school boards group to step into an ongoing power struggle with Indiana Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz on Friday, an offer she said was meaningless unless he deals with her directly.

Pence’s offer comes two days after Ritz, a Democrat, stormed out of a State Board of Education meeting. The fight between Ritz and Pence, who has appointment power over 10 of the 11 board seats and also staffs the board, has been escalating steadily throughout the year.

Pence framed the battle, in his letter to the National Association of State Boards of Education, as a fight between Ritz and the other board members.

“Despite this strong progress, I am aware that the Board has had difficulties in working together and I am writing to offer my administration’s assistance in finding a solution,” Pence wrote to the board members, including Ritz, who chairs the panel.

But a Ritz spokesman placed the blame for the continuing fights with Pence’s second education agency, created through an executive action earlier this year. That agency took over staffing the state education board from Ritz’s office earlier this year and was at the center of a recent motion that spurred Ritz’s abrupt departure.

“She has said repeatedly that the source of this conflict is not with individual board members, but with the governor’s newly created education agency,” Ritz spokesman Daniel Altman said in a statement Friday.

Members of the state board approved a broad outline for a new school-grading formula Wednesday morning, but their meeting quickly escalated into a shouting match over control of certain student assessments.

The relationship between Ritz and the other members was already icy heading into this week’s meeting. She filed a lawsuit against the other members claiming they violated state law by going around her to shift calculation of the state’s school grades from her office. The other members, a bipartisan group, said she had been dragging her feet in releasing the grades she openly opposed.

A Marion County judge dismissed the lawsuit last week.

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