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Editorial columns

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Ritz’s post likely safe – at least for now

Ritz

Indiana Republicans could not prevent Democrat Glenda Ritz from being elected state superintendent of public instruction. Whether they will fire her is the subject of much political speculation.

The idea that the state schools chief should be appointed by the governor rather than elected by the people has come up in the past. But it seems certain to be discussed now that a Democrat opposed to many of the state’s new education policies is responsible for enforcing them.

With Republicans holding the governor’s office plus super-majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate, GOP lawmakers – if they are so inclined – could easily make the superintendent’s position appointed.

Although the constitution requires the state to have a superintendent of public instruction, the “method of selection, tenure, duties and compensation shall be prescribed by law.”

The constitution mandates that the governor, secretary of state, state treasurer and state auditor be elected and subject to term limits, meaning voters would have to amend the constitution to eliminate one of those offices.

But the General Assembly could change the method of selecting the superintendent, and the governor could quickly appoint a new superintendent.

Advocates of making the change note that the position is appointed in most states and believe the governor should be able to name his key policy directors. Opponents say the separate election gives the education chief a necessary degree of independence. They note that Republican schools superintendent Suellen Reed worked well with Democratic governors.

Whether that could happen during Ritz’s 2013-16 term is less clear. Eliminating an elected office in mid-term might have legal ramifications and most certainly would have political blowback. If Republicans eliminated the one statewide office a Democrat holds, they would be subject to much criticism for accomplishing legislatively what they couldn’t get done at the polls.

Republican legislative leaders also recognize how they handle the walkout-proof supermajority will be under much political scrutiny, and there will be other controversial measures that have higher priority for Republicans in 2013. So leaders may postpone any serious consideration of trying to replace Ritz. It seems doubtful they would do so in 2014, a year when all 100 House members and half the 50-member Senate face re-election, but a move in the second half of Ritz’s term is plausible.

3rd-grade test

While Republican officials repeatedly remind constituents that Ritz has no authority to change education policies enacted into law, Ritz made clear she has enough power to get Indiana “moving forward in a different direction” regarding education.

In an interview with The Times of Northwest Indiana, she said she would eliminate the high-stakes third-grade reading test that requires students who fail to pass to re-take third-grade reading. If GOP lawmakers don’t try to remove Ritz, they may well pass that test into law.

Tracy Warner, editorial page editor, has worked at The Journal Gazette since 1981. He can be reached at 461-8113 or by email, twarner@jg.net.

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