Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz told a radio host Wednesday that Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, which serves as the staff of the Indiana State Board of Education, causes conflict by steering the board members to vote in opposition to her.

Ritz was deeply critical of CECI during a 45-minute interview with Justin Oakley on the Internet radio program Just Let Me Teach, which is hosted at indianatalks.com. Oakley was a Martinsville teacher when he sought the Democratic nomination to challenge then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett in 2012. He bowed out of the race when Ritz, a teacher, librarian and union leader from Indianapolis’ Washington Township decided to run.

When Oakley asked why Ritz’s relationship with the other 10 members of the state board was so contentious, she put the blame squarely on CECI.

“Politics tends to enter the discussion at some point,” she said. “That is what it is. I work with the state board that’s appointed by the governor. CECI, I feel, is really orchestrating how they want board members to vote. That causes the conflict between myself, and what I do at the Department of Education, and the board that I serve on.”

That statement prompted a reply on Twitter from state board member Brad Oliver, who is frequently critical of Ritz:

Ritz said the state board tension is less about her relationships with the other board members than it is about her disagreements with Pence. CECI was formed by Pence last year, using an executive order to redirect money to support the state board from Ritz’s education department to the new entity. From the start, Ritz called CECI’s creation a power grab.

Ritz told Oakley the creation of CECI has been the most difficult part of her job as state superintendent.

“The board and I are supposed to do work together,” Ritz said. “Many times I’m not sure that is the feeling that is going on. We have to delay things we might be working on in the Department of Education because CECI wants to be part of that, or set up a meeting. CECI is overseeing what the department is doing. It’s not a good feeling.”

Lou Ann Baker, a CECI spokesman, said today in response that the organization’s role is purely supportive.

“We respect the superintendent and the work she and her department are doing,” Baker said. “Staff will continue to support board members as requested and further the state’s efforts on innovative career and technical education and quality pre-K programs.”

On other matters, Ritz said:

  • Indiana should pay for student textbooks. “There are schools that cannot afford to purchase textbooks upfront and wait for reimbursement,” she said. “Kids are going without textbooks.”
  • She has almost visited every county. Ritz said she travels two to three times per week and has visited 80 of Indiana’s 92 counties and about half of the state’s 290 school districts.
  • The state should increase spending on programs for students learning English as a second language. “It’s not enough and it’s not appropriate,” she said of current funding levels.
  • She believes teacher wages are falling because the state is not spending enough on education and that fewer young people want to be teachers. “There is a feeling of disrespect for our profession,” she said.