- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A proposal allowing the State Board of Education to replace Democratic state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz as its leader could be voted on by the Indiana Senate next week after gaining committee approval Tuesday.

The Senate fiscal policy committee voted 9-4 along party lines to advance the Republican-backed measure, which would repeal the long-standing law that the state superintendent be the board chairman in favor of allowing the board to elect any of its members to that position.

The GOP-dominated House on Monday approved a similar bill that Ritz supporters say would disenfranchise voters who elected her as superintendent in 2012.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence now appoints all 10 other board members. The Senate proposal, however, would shrink it to a nine-member board made up of the state superintendent, four appointments by the governor and one appointment each for the Republican and Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate.

Bill sponsor Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said he believed allowing the board to select its own chairman would address what he called its dysfunction over the past two years as Ritz and the other board members have struggled for control of education policy.

Democratic Sen. John Broden of South Bend questioned Holdman on his argument that corporate and nonprofit boards function best with a chairman other than the chief executive.

Broden asked whether the Legislature should also fix boards of which Pence is chairman under state law, such as the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and Indiana Career Council.

“I’m not aware of that any of those other boards or commissions, that those have become issues that have risen to the level to get on anyone’s radar,” Holdman said.

Ritz supporters assert that the disputes have been generated by Pence’s appointees who want to exert control over programs on teacher evaluation, private school vouchers and the state takeover of poorly performing schools that were championed by former Superintendent Tony Bennett, the Republican whom Ritz unseated in 2012.

Broden said the arguments from Republicans about dysfunction on the board were “fig leaves” for a political power move to deprive Ritz midway through her term of a power that the schools superintendent has held for more than 100 years.

“I think voters did vote for a check on some of the things that were happening in public education,” he said. “I think they did want more debate, more dialogue. I think they did want to slow things down.”

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