November 17, 2013

OUR VIEW: Let Ritz do the job we gave her


---- — While the camel’s back might be slowly bending over time from the weight of a burden, it’s always the straw that seems to get the spotlight.

And when it comes to the State Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz’ abrupt dismissal of a State Board of Education meeting this week, it’s again the straw basking in the glow of the camera’s flash. While the explosion of Ritz’ back breaking makes good headlines, it’s the ongoing political mess that should bear the brunt of the flash bulbs. After all, that’s what’s been loading up the camel’s back for months now.

The straw was a discussion about moving oversight of career readiness programs to an agency controlled by Gov. Mike Pence. To be more precise, the straw was the latest attempt to usurp Ritz of power over education in the state of Indiana.

It’s a battle many predicted in November last year the Democrat would face after her stunning victory over incumbent Republican Tony Bennett. We think many elected leaders in Indiana continue to miss the most important part of the previous sentence. The operative word is victory.

She pulled off a low-cost, high-impact campaign with less than one-fifth of the money that Bennett had raised. She won because a grassroots effort swelled up under her feet. It was an effort fueled by teachers who felt disrespected in the ongoing education reform in Indiana.

The voters said they didn’t like what was happening with the massive education overhaul that Bennett championed with the backing of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and the GOP-controlled Legislature.

They were unhappy with the direction and they made themselves heard. No one was listening at the time because higher profile races for a U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s office captivated the headlines. And it seems no one is listening now either.

Instead of listening to the public they represent, leaders are trying to circumvent the electorate and do what they wanted to do in the first place.

That not only defeats the purpose of the grassroots effort, it defeats the purpose of democracy. Voters said they didn’t like what was happening and clearly demanded it be changed. The majority said they wanted Ritz to lead the charge on education in the state. Now it seems state leaders are trying to take the job away.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work. If you lose an election, you don’t have to like who won and you don’t have to like their ideas or policies. But what is expected is that you find ways to work with fellow elected officials on doing the bidding of the electorate. You leave the overthrowing for the next election.

The irony is that if state leaders would stop and listen, they’d find people aren’t completely disagreeing with them. In most of the conversations we had with sources after the race — including many educators — we learned it wasn’t that people didn’t want education reform. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Many knew reform was needed in order for us to better educate our children. What they balked at was the way the reform was being approached.

Sweeping changes were made with little to no input from educators. Local educators said while accountability and student improvement are indeed what they want, the rapidity with which reforms have been implemented overburdened local school corporations that were already struggling with budget cuts.

More thought and time should be put into reforms, they said, so schools can implement them gradually.

Many of those voters agreed with Bennett’s campaign of cutting-edge reforms that will make Indiana the model for the nation, but a vote for Ritz was a vote for inclusive reform.

Ritz has listened to voters and is trying to do the job they gave her. Those trying to overthrow her should take note of her approach. They should also take note that voters aren’t too keen on hearing they’re wrong. They swelled up once and can do it again.

THE ISSUE The latest attempt to usurp Glenda Ritz of power over education in the state of Indiana. OUR VIEW Elected officials need to respect the decisions made by the voting majority.