- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Two vocal critics of Democratic state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz will no longer serve on the State Board of Education under its revamped membership announced Wednesday by Republican Gov. Mike Pence and GOP legislative leaders.

Pence reappointed five current board members, some of whom have clashed with Ritz since she became the board’s chairwoman after being elected in 2012. But persistent Ritz critics Marian University President Dan Elsener and Indiana Wesleyan University professor Brad Oliver won’t be back.

The terms of the previous board members expire Monday under changes to the panel adopted by the Legislature this spring in response to repeated conflicts over education policy between the Republican-dominated board and Ritz.

The new appointments mark “a fresh start for the State Board of Education,” Pence said in a statement. A Ritz spokesman declined to comment Wednesday.

Ritz will remain chairwoman of the board as the Republican-dominated Legislature delayed a contentious change sought by Pence to allow the board to elect any member as its leader until after the next state superintendent’s election in 2016. Democrats and other Ritz supporters argued the suggested change was a political power grab.

The new board is scheduled meet for the first time June 3 at Purdue University in West Lafayette.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar, who has pushed to make the state superintendent’s position one appointed by the governor, said a divide in education philosophy will remain but he hoped the new group would be able to work together better.

“Hopefully the message has been sent by the General Assembly that we’re not pleased or proud of what’s gone on the last two years and we would like to see change,” Brinegar said.

Pence’s picks included David Freitas, an Indiana University South Bend professor, and Gordon Hendry, an executive for real estate service company CBRE in Indianapolis - both who’ve sparred with Ritz over the direction of programs such as teacher evaluations, private school vouchers and the state takeover of poorly performing schools.

The governor’s office said Elsener asked not to be considered for reappointment. Oliver, who had sought reappointment, said in a statement he looked forward to “pursuing new opportunities to exhibit influence in the development of our state’s educators.”

Legislators took away two of Pence’s 10 board appointments, giving one each to the House and Senate leaders.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma appointed Byron Ernest, who is the head of Indianapolis-based Hoosier Academies, which operates an online charter school program. GOP Senate President Pro Tem David Long picked Steve Yager, a retired Fort Wayne-area public schools district superintendent.

The board membership bill approved by lawmakers also creates a new vice chairman position, with that person having joint responsibility with Ritz for the panel’s agenda.

Such sharing of responsibilities could cause new troubles between Ritz and the other board members, said Vic Smith, president of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, which opposes many Republican-backed school initiatives.

“I hope that can be done in an amicable way, but that’s very unusual,” Smith said. “… While the Legislature was trying clean everything up so there could be a fresh start, they left at least that seed that’s prime for disagreement.”

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