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Push to Eliminate Election of Indiana Superintendent Possible in 2015

The political and policy clashes between Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and Republican state officials, including Gov. Mike Pence, have made headlines for nearly two years since Ritz's election as a Democrat in 2012. Now, one prominent Indiana group plans a lobbying effort to eliminate that election for state K-12 chief in the future.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar told the Associated Press Nov. 17 that the group wants a change in state law that would allow the governor, or failing that the state board of education (whose members are appointed by the governor), to select the next state superintendent, not the voters, in 2016, the next scheduled election for the office. 

Justifying the chamber's proposal, Bringer cited how "incredibly dysfunctional" the state board meetings are. Since Ritz defeated former Superintendent Tony Bennett just over two years ago, she and board members have clashed about the state's evolving accountability system, teacher licensure, and the Indiana Center for Education and Career Innovation, a new education agency Pence created in 2013. (Ritz says the center was conceived specifically to reduce her power over K-12.) At one point, a mediator from the National Association of State Boards of Education was brought into to try to establish stronger rules for board meetings and ease the tension between Ritz and several of the members.

The Indiana Constitution specifies that there be a state superintendent of public instruction, but it leaves the method of selection up to state lawmakers. A spokesman for Ritz, Daniel Altman, told the AP that eliminating the election for the superintendent's office would be "shortsighted" and give voters a raw deal. 

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, responded to Brinegar's comments by noting that, essentially, the state would look very suspect if Republicans in control of the governor's office and the legislature agreed to eliminate the election for an office currently held by a Democrat. Still, he also expressed frustration with the prominence of the fights between Ritz and other state officials, saying he doesn't want to see any more "bickering on the front page of the papers."

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