Letter to the Editor

State Board of Education governance

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Many folks have asked me about education this session, specifically my position on Senate Bill 1. I sit on the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development, and I am honored to have this role. In regards to my education votes, I will always focus on the best interests of our children.

The current relationship between the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Superintendent of Public Instruction could charitably be described as dysfunctional. This dysfunction is starting to negatively impact education in our state.

Some will remember Dragnet's Sergeant Friday frequently saying, "Just the facts, ma'am." Below I've listed "just the facts" on the current status of education laws affected by SB 1.

1) The State Board of Education was created to implement education, and the General Assembly sets that policy.

2) The Governor currently appoints 10 of the 11 members to the SBOE (no more than six from the same political party). At least four must have a teaching license and be actively employed in the schools of Indiana.

3) The Superintendent is the Director of the Department of Education, the 11th member of the SBOE and its automatic Chairperson.

As you might be aware, SBOE meetings during the last two years have had a lot of time devoted to the members of the board criticizing each other. Even Superintendent Ritz's fellow Democrats have publicly criticized her. Disagreement over policy is a healthy part of the democratic process.

However, the Board has spent far too much time arguing over procedural rules instead of substantive education issues.

To address the above problems, the Senate recently passed SB 1 with my support. Now "just the facts" on SB 1:

1) The bill would reduce SBOE membership to nine members which includes the State Superintendent, four members appointed by the governor, and four bipartisan legislative appointments.

2) The political make-up will be bipartisan.

3) At least four members must be current or retired public school educators.

4) The State Board membership will annually elect one member of the Board to serve as Chair. This could be the Superintendent or another Board member.

SB 1 does not take sides in the SBOE conflicts. Instead the bill seeks compromise to make the Board function properly. It reduces the Governor's appointments to the Board and adds bipartisan appointments from the General Assembly.

This bill does not remove Glenda Ritz as the Superintendent of Public Instruction or as a member of the SBOE. It does not make the Superintendent of Public Instruction an appointed position. The bill simply changes the Board's make-up and adds much needed balance to the SBOE. It also brings the Board's structure in line with more common corporate governance practices.

I will continue to vote in favor of legislation that moves education policy in a positive direction that benefits all children.

By State Senator Eric Bassler